Pushing boundaries: Amy Wilde, actor and member of Two Tall Theatre. Picture: Jonathan CarrollWhen Two Tall Theatre present Age of Consent at the Civic Playhouse on July 19, they will compose yet another chapter in the short but colourful life of this controversial production.
The sixth play written by Peter Morris unravels the thoughts of a shrewd and tawdry stage mum blinded by the glitter of an imaginary but irresistible gold. Her monologues are interweaved with those of a young boy wrestling with guilt, notoriety and the dye cast by his criminal instincts.
Their stories continue to pose essential questions about themes previously considered too sensitive for a playwright to touch. Encircling these discussions has been a broader issue about media, the theatre and where best to draw the line between them.
It is a debate not lost on but rather welcomed by director and Two Tall Theatre co-founder Patrick Campbell. The sensationalist media culture that this play first examined in 2001 is more familiar to audiences today and, in an age of digitisation and social media, even more relevant.
“That is what really intrigued me about the play. The frenzy feeding industry of the tabloid newspaper,” Campbell says.
That the imprisoned teenager Timmy is in one scene prevented by his social worker from reading a tabloid, is symbolic of a society that should see itself reflected in the news that they consume.
“Social media and reality television are now just extensions of that newspaper” Campbell says. The only difference today, he observes, “is that we carry the news around in our pocket. We open our phones up and there it is – the Kardashians over and over again.”
When single mother Stephanie appears on stage in The Age of Consent, it is easy to imagine her inhabiting the celluloid and celebrity-obsessed world of today.
“She would sell anything to get on reality television” Campbell says of the character. The reality for her character throughout the play is that the line between promotion and exploitation is invisible even when, for the audience, it is often painfully apparent.
For actor Amy Wilde, who plays Stephanie, the efforts the character makes to balance herself on this moral tightrope can be as enjoyable to watch as they are uncomfortable to observe.
“The beauty of Age of Consent is that you will be entertained, but also be left with some serious questions” Wilde says. “As a mother, Stephanie is the product of her own upbringing. Although most people may not agree, I think she does what she thinks is best.”
Two Tall Theatre isan impressive artistic collective. Established in 2015 by Wilde, Campbelland actor and director Pearl Nunn, the companyhas quickly distinguished itself in the Newcastle theatre scene by anuncompromising commitment to material that swims defiantly against the mainstream. From a darkly comical apocalypse to love and subordination in a Cambodian prison house, their productions boldly examine adversities and celebrate those who strive to overcome them.
Amy Wilde Age of Consent, it was an obvious nod to the talent and professionalism of the company and their refreshingly inventive approach to production.
Even more impressive is Two Tall’swillingness to dive a second time into waters that most other Newcastle theatre companies would run a mile from.
“We know we are pushing boundaries” Nunn says, “but the amazing thing is that the dangerous and darkest stories can still be the most powerful. We want to tell people the tales that never get told.”
For Wilde, the challenge ahead lies not so much in pushing boundaries, but removing the boundaries altogether.
“If Newcastle can show that this is the kind of theatre they appreciate, then hopefully other smaller companies will be supported like we have been,” she says.
Age of Consent, July 19-22, Civic Playhouse