In collaboration with Belvoir, Sydney’s Seventeen receives its UK debut at The Lyric, Hammersmith. Written by Matthew Whittet, the play focuses on the part of your life where you’re in limbo, having just finished your exams at seventeen. Except all the actors aren’t seventeen.
On the last day of school, best friends Mike and Tom go to their favourite spot in the playground to celebrate, “cause tonight we are going to have the best fucking night ever. We’re going to get shit faced”. Ronny, played by Mike Grady, is around, and no-one’s really sure why. So is Mike’s younger sister Lizzy (Sarah Ball) who’s annoying him and making the girls laugh. Jess and Emilia are also best friends, they’re up for a laugh alongside the boys. Things start to get complicated when Tom confesses his love for Jess, and Emilia confesses her love of Tom to Jess. Talk turns to the future and no one’s really sure what they’re doing.
I originally really struggled with the concept, especially during an earlier scene of dancing; it was mostly just awkward to watch them pretend to be young. But as the piece developed you looked more at their characters and started to sort of forget that they were playing someone younger than themselves.
Mike Grady, as Ronny, provided a detailed character. Although it seemed like a stereotyped representation of that kind of boy to begin with, I really grew to believe him. He is a thorough actor and as a result I could envision that boy in my school. His emotional unravelling is the highlight of the play. He really highlights the vulnerability of all the characters (“I hate who I am.”)
Sarah Ball, as Lizzy, was such a joy to watch. She added a cheeky punch of energy to the piece. Diana Hardcastle, as Jess, was one of the only performers whose voice reflected a younger intonation, she also really moved youthfully. There was a genuine feeling that she really sat into the young person she was as Jess.
The design (by Tom Scutt) was representative of the theme, with larger-than-life playground pieces, a tall swing set, and bars set as a figure of infinity. The cast swing and lay over the pieces, giving it a fidgety and playful energy. Although it seemed basic as the stage was surrounded otherwise in a black box space. I was also slightly confused by the setting of the piece, since we entered and exited to 90s tunes playing, but throughout the piece they danced to current chart songs and obsessed over their phones.
What is most refreshing as always from the Lyric, is the young audience and the energy they provide for the show. The entire front row was full of people under eighteen, who all have different reactions and feelings towards the piece. It’s also really refreshing to see older performers in quality roles that are challenging and pivotal to the plot.
I felt like Seventeen was a slightly gimmicky way of getting a point across about youth, but definitely added another layer to a what would have been just another teen play about growing up.
Seventeen is playing The Lyric, Hammersmith until 8 April.