Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageAnna Volska, Maggie Dence, John Gaden, Peter Carroll and Barry Otto in Seventeen. Brett Boardman/Belvoir St, CC BY-SA

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Our experience of plays is always profoundly affected by how they end: comedy or tragedy, death or marriage, hope or despair. My response to Matthew Whittet’sSeventeen (directed by Anne-Louise Sarks at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre), a play that thinks hard about how our endings are related to our beginnings, is no exception. And that means this review contains spoilers. Sorry.

The motivating idea behind Seventeen is a brilliant one: actors in their seventies play 17-year-olds on their last day of school, poised on the brink of an adulthood which they can barely comprehend. The canny trick of using older actors to perform these roles adds a wonderfully exuberant humour.

The cast dancing to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off – which would have been cut if the pop megastar hadn’t given last-minute permission for the song’s use – is one of the most joy-filled moments on stage I have ever seen.

imageAnna Volska in Seventeen.Brett Boardman/BelvoirSt, CC BY

But it also lends poignancy and a searching irony. As they inhabit the gauche attitudes and awkward physicalities of late adolescence, the questions posed by the bodies of these actors are potentially devastating: which of their dreams will come true? Will their hopes be fulfilled?

If there is despair, will the future bring consolations? What happens to love? As awareness of mortality creeps into our lives, what will have been important to us?

For all its consideration of the relationship between childhood and future lives, this is a conservative play. And, as a gay man watching the play’s ending, I felt I’d seen this story too many times to feel part of its investments in the future. Here’s what happens:

Half way through the play there’s a touching scene between the characters of Tom and Sue. Sue is going out with Tom’s best friend, Mike, but Tom confesses his love for her by telling her about a dream he’s had in which they grow old together, surrounded by grandchildren.

Played by Peter Carroll and Maggie Dence, it’s a touching pause in a night of frantic teenage activities. The final scene echoes this moment as Tom and Sue sit on swings together (the play is set in a suburban playground), flying upwards towards a possible future in which Tom’s dream could come true.

imagePeter Carroll and Maggie Dence in Seventeen.Brett Boardman/Belvoir, CC BY

Throughout the play, Mike is the character most resistant to the idea of growing up. He wants to hold on to the last remnants of childhood before they are cruelly taken away from him. He also, on finding out that Sue has been pashing Tom, admits that it is Tom that he has loved all along.

This provokes a tender moment in which Mike (played by the endlessly charming John Gaden) recalls, for Tom, their first meeting as much younger kids when Tom had taken him under his wing. But there is no reconciliation between these friends. Mike, perhaps rightly seeing no future in maintaining a friendship that has gone wrong, hurries himself off stage.

I wanted to follow him. I wanted to have a stake in his future and not in Tom and Sue’s future grandchildren.

So, it’s that old story: straight people have a claim on the future. Gay people don’t. I had sat through this joyous play, laughing and crying with these characters, only to be told the same thing I’ve been told since I was a kid.

Why is this story so persistent?

Freud, in the early 20th century, allied homosexuality to immaturity, claiming that it is marked by an inability to grow up, to make properly adult sexual attachments. “I don’t want it all to change yet,” Mike says, early in Seventeen and wishes that he could “freeze time so nothing ever changes”.

Freud’s theories imply, and depend upon, a narrative arc that is much older than psychoanalysis, as old as comic drama itself: one in which only heterosexual marriage is synonymous with a happy ending.

Shakespeare’s comedies are classic examples. At the end of Twelfth Night, as Sebastian is due to marry Olivia, what has happened to his friend Antonio, the dashing pirate who, like Mike, has declared his love and will risk death to help his beloved companion?

I do adore thee so That danger shall seem sport

We don’t know because, just like Mike, Antonio doesn’t get any lines in the final scene and is excluded from the play’s investment in that universal happy ending: straight marriage with kids.

If we think – optimistically – that Australia is on the road to joining much of the rest of the world and legislating to allow same-sex marriage, then I wonder what difference that makes to 17-year-olds considering their futures? I also wonder what difference that might make to our understanding of “happy endings” too?

Queer theorists such as Lee Edelman, Annamarie Jagose, and Jack Halberstam have, in the last decade, reclaimed the idea of a non-productive future as their own, our own, resisting the telos (happy ending) of growing up/ marriage/ reproduction. In No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2014), Edelman calls this:

an insistence on the negativity that pierces the fantasy screen of futurity.

Perhaps, when he was bunking off school, Mike was secretly reading No Future?

So, if I run off-stage with Mike, “shaking off” the straight swinging couple, we’ll both run into Antonio the pirate and together we’ll dream up future happy endings. I don’t know what they’ll be yet, because nobody seems to want to tell those stories.

Seventeen is at Belvoir Theatre until September 13. Details here

Huw Griffiths does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/seventeen-at-belvoir-a-brilliant-theatrical-event-with-a-happy-hetero-ending-45832

Writers Wanted

Expect the new normal for NZ's temperature to get warmer


The Best Tips to Set Up a Family Budget


The Conversation


Ray Hadley's interview with Scott Morrison

RAY HADLEY: Prime Minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ray.   HADLEY: I was just referring to this story from the Courier Mail, which you’ve probably caught up with today about t...

Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison - avatar Ray Hadley & Scott Morrison

Prime Minister's Remarks to Joint Party Room

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is great to be back in the party room, the joint party room. It’s great to have everybody back here. It’s great to officially welcome Garth who joins us. Welcome, Garth...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

7 foolproof tips for bidding successfully at a property auction

Auctions can be beneficial for prospective buyers, as they are transparent and fair. If you reach the limit you are willing to pay, you can simply walk away. Another benefit of an auction is tha...

Dominique Grubisa - avatar Dominique Grubisa

Getting Ready to Code? These Popular and Easy Programming Languages Can Get You Started

According to HOLP (History Encyclopedia of Programing Languages), there are more than 8,000 programming languages, some dating as far back as the 18th century. Although there might be as many pr...

News Co - avatar News Co

Avoid These Mistakes When Changing up Your Executive Career

Switching up industries is a valid move at any stage in your career, even if you’re an executive. Doing so at this stage can be a lot more intimidating, however, and it can be quite difficult know...

News Co - avatar News Co

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion