Based on Shannon Molloy’s memoir of the same title, FOURTEEN, directed by Nick Skubij, has been skilfully adapted by Shake & Stir, bringing this coming-of-age story to the stage and presenting his experience with equal amount of energy and empathy to new audiences in a way that is both accessible and relatable.

We are first introduced to our narrator and protagonist Shannon Molloy (played by Conor Leach) in the present day. Appearing on a balcony, his repeated reassurances that he’ll ‘be fine,’ acts as a catalyst, transporting us back to the regional Queensland town of Yeppoon. It’s 1999 and the most entertaining option for teenagers on any given weekend is doing laps of the local shopping plaza. There are plenty of laughs to be had as sound and lighting ensure that we are swept up in the nostalgia of a seemingly simpler time. The distinctively Australian setting and dialogue is familiar, and as the ensemble cast offer a range of diverse characters, the universality of the play is evident. This could be any small Australian town. A soundscape of classic 90’s hits brings back memories, settling the audience who tap their toes to the beat of the all-familiar tunes and recall their own cringe-inducing adolescence. Beneath this veneer, it is soon revealed that at this impressionable age, Shannon is facing one of the toughest years of his life.

Ostracised and bullied relentlessly for being gay, Shannon is still figuring out his own identity, which is a source of both pathos and catharsis. His puberty-charged struggles are further polarised in this small-minded town community, where any point of difference offers a reason for harassment. Concerns that the production might become too heavy were assuaged with the right balance between darker moments and the humour. The production team ensure smooth transitions that ensure that while darker moments resonate, they don’t linger, driving the plot towards a more inspirational focus. Leach’s nuance and skill as a performer is evident as darker scenes including simulated violence, depictions of self-harm, suicide ideation and sexual abuse are balanced with all the energy and excitement of youth and discovery, reinforcing a hopeful main message that things get better. It’s a message that needs to be heard.

The clever set design of a traditional Queensland town provides multiple levels and along with the revolving floor, contributes to the fast-paced action of the play, where there is a quick and seamless transition between scenes. The talented ensemble cast play a range of dynamic characters, enlivening every scene, particularly those set at the rugby-obsessed Catholic high school. There are some particularly poignant scenes between Shannon and his family members that reinforce the importance of strong support networks, contrasting with notions of fear, shame and loss that are conveyed during the lower points of the play. This production gets that balance right, and the audience optimistic that success and happiness await, even if it may take a while to get there.

Sadly FOURTEEN only had a short season at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta with two performances, on Friday 3 May and Saturday 4 May 2024.

Production photography by David Fell

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