The Wild Nights of Youth

Cracked-Actors-Theatre-presents-The-Wild-Nights-of-Youth-photo-by-Joshua-LeeThe Wild Nights of Youth was a deep dive into the Melbourne Sharpie subculture that I knew nothing about before seeing this play, as in 1972 I was a little girl living on the other side of the world in England.

Yet, Sharpies framed the audience’s interpretation of the performance as soon as the first words were articulated. Flourishing across the 1960s to the 1970s, Sharpies were unique to Australia, yet often misunderstood and maligned as rebellious youth gangs that had no place in a civilised society.

However, through a carefully written script and its vibrant enactment, this play enabled real-life insights into the Sharpies’ emotional and psychological states of mind, together with glimpses of their family life, platonic and romantic relationships, homosexuality, and drug use.

The simplicity of the black box stage, and being seated within spitting distance of the actors, contributed to the intimacy of the piece. Clever use of lighting also helped to camouflage actors’ exits and entrances, or gave them more time to make quick changes when a soliloquy under a spotlight took place.

From the LSD-acid-weed infused partying to the overdose scene when young Adam Pescado (Bailey Griffiths) tries to take his own life, the reality of drug use and abuse is omnipresent. Indeed, liberal references to the Sharpie drug culture eventually lead to its normalisation, with spectators being subjected to recurrent drug-related motifs that are developed across time via key characters.

Nevertheless, what stands out more than any of this are the ever-evolving dark psychological themes of mental breakdown, manipulation, and eventual duplicity. These bind the piece together through its assemblage of scenes involving Adam’s relationships with his mother, girlfriends, a homosexual acquaintance (Logan, played by Aston Elliot), but more significantly, his best friend Cliff Marr (Tom Pickering).

The influence that Cliff has over Adam is recognised early on by his mother, Olivia Pescado (Kirsty White), although it is initially disregarded by her son who is totally enamoured by him. There are implicit references to Cliff’s narcissistic delusions of grandeur when he openly flirts with Olivia and professes to be responding to her suppressed lust for him.

Nevertheless, when Adam starts taking drugs regularly with Cliff, and wagging school, this is the onset of Adam’s trips to the psychiatrist (Harmon, played by Aston Elliot), where the toxicity of the Adam-Cliff bromance is further exposed. This climaxes with Cliff stealing Adam’s new girlfriend from group therapy to whom Adam has recently lost his virginity.

When accosted about this by Adam, Cliff passes off his sexual faux pas with Brenda as ‘doing Adam a favour’ because she would have eventually left him anyway. The psychological manipulation is disturbing, as you almost believe Cliff due to his powers of philosophical persuasion that are laced with Shakespearian-like language.

All in all, this crew of new and senior actors engender a melange of frivolity and fear through their sophisticated and nuanced character portrayals. The high-quality script and directing, along with the actors’ commitment to telling a story from five decades ago, all contribute to the play’s success. The Cracked Actors Theatre company is definitely one to watch out for in the coming months.

The Wild Nights of Youth
Cracked Actors Theatre (CAT) – Powerhouse on the Lake, 34 Lakeside Drive, Albert Park
Performance: Sunday 26 November 2022
Season: 24 November – 4 December 2022
Information and Bookings:

Image: Cracked Actors Theatre presents The Wild Nights of Youth – photo by Joshua Lee

Review: Dr Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan