It’s a natural indicator of the NSDF audience that on entering the McCarthy auditorium and seeing four hooded characters surrounding a figure hunched in a spotlight you can hear the group sigh of ‘Oh tits, here comes another cackhanded student social commentary…’ echoing out. But Herons is a play that knows its target audience and knows exactly how to use that audience’s expectations against itself. Like a theatre ninja.
So we’re presented with a story that centres around Billy (Simon Longman), a teenager that feels completely out of sync with his surroundings, who is being threatened by pier Scott Cooper (Edward Franklin). From this simple premise the play expands and develops in ways that are at once predictable and surprising. I hesitate to go into any more detail of the plot in case it ruins what is a beautifully pitched and paced piece, suffice to say that it reveals its details not as a cheap mystery might, but instead by letting the characters naturally uncover themselves through their dialogue and interactions.
The performances are universally impressive. Every actor possesses an uncanny ability to inhabit their character, from the seldom seen grimy wino mother Michelle Russell (Elie Rose) to gang lackies Darren Madden (Laurence Fox) and Aaron Riley (Ashley Gerlach). Worthy of special mention though are Edward Franklin and Mark Weinman. Franklin, already impressive in No Wonder, confirms all the praise he’s received with a ‘villain’ character who’s humour, anger, violence, and absolute insecurity makes his stage time feel unsettlingly precious; while Weinman’s deliberate performance and total insight are palpable from the instant he comes on stage.
Fittingly it is central character Billy who is the biggest enigma of Herons. Initially overshadowed by the other actors, as Longman’s performance grows in confidence so too does his character in presence. At first glance he is a protagonist who is nothing more than a way for a middle-class audience to judge those filthy ASBOs, but the journey he takes, his repressions, decisions and his conclusions endw up making us question our notions of victimisation and social justice.
Everything in Herons is layered: its settings, its script and its characters. It is a credit to the entire cast and crew that they have drawn out all these elements with assurance, dedication and professionalism. What in other hands would have been a standard portrayal of urban troubles and teenage angst becomes a unique vision of lies, status and retribution.