Salad Bowl Collective presented an emotionally charged production of X-Stacy at the Ron Hurley Theatre, produced by Mira Ball Productions and Trent Sellars and directed by Elodie Boal – an Australian coming-of-age classic about family, grief, dance club culture, and looking out for your mates that remains relevant two decades after it was first performed.
For those of you who didn’t study this text in high school at some point, X-Stacy centres on Ben and his strained relationship with his mother and former friends following the death of his younger sister Stacy. The play delves into the dance clubs and raves of the 90s as aspiring DJ Zoe begins renting Stacy’s old room and meets Ben’s friends Fergus and Jenna, all of them frequenting The Crystal club. X-Stacy jumps across time to untangle the circumstances that led to Stacy’s death and asks the audience to consider the idea of ecstasy and the myriad ways in which people seek it, from the holy ecstasy of the church to the chemical ecstasy swallowed at dance clubs or sought in their thumping beats. X-Stacy also touches on other issues such as sexism in the club scene, through Fergus’ dismissal of Zoe as a legitimate DJ and later his sleazy, physically intimidating behaviour towards her.
Parallels are drawn consistently in the play between the allure and community of the church and the raves, and this was manifested physically in the set design, from the juxtaposition of the pulpit and the DJ decks to the flashing sign of the club doubling as a giant neon cross. Audiences were also enveloped in the energy of the performance from the moment they collected their tickets with hand stamps, glow stick bracelets, and laser lights in the theatre foyer.
Inventive lighting design and a multifunctional set transported the audience across time and space, and soundscape design by Mal Boal was integral to this work, which revolved around music. Sound was also used as a direct storytelling device; scenes were intercut with voicemails and phone conversations played in blackout that slowly teased out the timeline of Stacy’s death.
Ruby Sanders embodied a youthful energy as Stacy, and her costuming emphasised this youth, edging on immaturity at times. Her chemistry with Connor Hawkins’ Ben was lively and natural, and her appearances as a ghost, or a memory, held a solemness that emphasised her versatility as a performer. Connor Hawkins gave a similarly multifaceted performance as Ben, from playful and protective before his sister’s death to withdrawn and sullen afterwards, and Alison Telfer-McDonald gave an emotional performance as Ben and Stacy’s mother Anne, seeking comfort in academia and faith after the death of her daughter. Elodie Boal brought vigour and sass to the role of Zoe, bouncing off Hawkins’ surly energy with an upbeat characterisation and developing an authentic connection with Telfer-McDonald’s Anne. Arun Clarke played a genuinely dislikeable Fergus, which is commendable, and Ebony Hamacek brought a convincing range of emotions to the role of Jenna. Trent Sellars was a calm and stoic presence as Paul, although his accent was not always consistent.
At a Q&A and debrief following the performance, co-producer Trent Sellars spoke about the role of community groups – theatre troupes, sports teams – in taking the burden of moral responsibility for young people from the church, and director Elodie Boal spoke about the impact of drug education in schools. “Maybe it’s not working in classrooms, maybe it’s working in theatres or other outlets,” she said.
With pill testing and festival overdoses still prevalent issues, X-Stacy‘s message is driven home by the fact that so little has changed in the twenty years since it premiered, as well as by the dedication of a talented cast and crew.