The delay of its opening night did not reduce the energy of SUDS’ latest production, The Year My Voice Broke. The play is a coming of age story set in 1960s rural NSW that depicts the trials and tribulations of growing up, directed by Haddie Davies and produced by 2021 SUDS President, Alice Stafford. Davies smoothly transforms this classic film to a play format, with themes highlighting the importance of self-determination around pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, and sexual freedom – freedoms which were restricted in the mid-twentieth century and continue to be withheld and threatened around the world.
Divided into short scenes, the play introduces us to Joshua Di Mattina-Beven’s character Danny, an awkward 15-year-old narrator besotted with his 16-year-old friend, Ruby Zupp’s Freya. Freya is the play’s main character; we watch her fall in love, find out about her past, and make decisions for her future. Hayden Cotter plays Trevor, Freya’s love interest and an alleged criminal. SUDS’ publicity officer Jim Bradshaw plays Jonah, a train track operator and novelist with a perpetual work-in-progress. A mixture of new and familiar SUDS faces filled the ensemble, including Sophie Newby (Mrs Embling / Gail), Sam Hill-Wade (Mr Embling / Tony), Mali Lung (Mrs Olson / Lisa), and Michael Sebastian (Sergeant Pierce / Barry).
The several storylines of the narrative weave into a climactic and cathartic conclusion. Freya’s blossoming romance with Trevor is perilously threatened by the criminal justice system and the perverse peeping-tomfoolery performed by Danny, who investigates a mysterious ghost house. Danny’s actions provoked nervous but genuine laughter from the audience as he stole socks and underwear from his forgiving friend Freya. This laughter halted, however, with the play’s sober end.
The tremendous stage management team of The Year My Voice Broke enhanced the actors’ performance, efficiently and seamlessly organising countless props and set changes throughout. Great effort was taken in the detail and concept of the set design. A cosy train station operation room sat on the left of the stage, with all the necessary items a train station operator needs: books, a writing desk, and a Costco-sized liquor bottle. To the right was Danny’s grimy room, with a comically small bed and movie posters plastering the wall. The centre stage was transformed between scenes with simple prop changes; a cupboard with glass bottles for a bar, hay bales for a farm, and a sign for a high school bathroom. The set panels melt into the dark walls and ceiling of the Cellar Theatre that is smattered with the chalky handprints of the youth who have created this play.
Music from the ‘60s floated through the air during the performance – a compliment to Shea Berecry’s sound design, which incorporated moments in the play where Danny sings with lovesick teenage ballads. Despite the cringe-worthy lyrics, Di Mattina-Beven brings a beautiful energy to these songs with a clear and strong voice.
Whilst some details of the story may be lost to fast-paced dialogue, it was easy to catch up and stay engaged with the production.
Davies and Stafford should be very proud of themselves and their team for creating such a painfully real and raw production that resonated with their audience – capturing the awkwardness and stickiness of being young. Would I see it again? Absolutely. Will I? Probably not, as it finishes on Saturday the 21st of May.