REVIEW: Sunrise (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Bianca Michelle

[New Light]

Created by a team many of whom are still in High School, Seed Theatre Company’s Sunrise is receiving a second season this Fringe after a run at Pitt Street Theatre last year. The play is both an exploration of mental health and a plea for open communication about the issues surrounding it, seeing a quartet of young people form a group to discuss the challenges they’re facing in their lives, gradually getting closer to an understanding of how to face them.

In exploring such a sensitive topic Sunrise manages a neat tonal balancing act. It could have slipped into grimmer territory similar to HBO’s gratuitously morose Euphoria, but there’s no desire here to shock and appall. By the same token, this is no Very Special Episode of Blossom and its honesty is never compromised by empty positivity or sentiment. The four strong writing team, lead by Joshua Downs and including Anya Christiansen, James Hunter and Francis Johnson, show a great deal of confidence in their handling of the material, neither throwing in unnecessary histrionics or offering pat solutions. As a result Sunrise feels genuine, a reflection of real experiences instead of manufactured drama.

It’s possibly this that motivates such unmannered and truthful performances from the young cast, all of whom manage to create grounded, believable characters. As Chloe, the facilitator of the group, Hanah Tayes has a careful, measured way of speaking indicating the distance she tries to keep from the anxiety that sometimes overwhelms her. Jake Pitcher’s Jamie is a convincing mess of hard to process emotions and Zane Wood as Ben gives an amusing but understated portrayal of his Flight of the Conchords obsessed recluse. The standout is Melissa Uren as Lee, delivering a nuanced, affecting take on a character whose natural generosity makes it hard for her to set desperately needed boundaries. Keenha Oh and Emma Montgomery meanwhile do strong work as a range of characters from the leads’ lives.

Director Giorgia Doughty’s staging often uses sound and lighting to evoke the characters’ mental states, though the efficacy of this fluctuates a little at times. The beating drum signifying Chloe’s anxiety is a great, simple device, but there’s nothing quite as effective for any of the other characters. Finding more tricks like this could have better smoothed over scene transitions and helped the flow from the group into the characters’ headspace feel more organic. I also would have found some marker of passing time helpful to get an idea of how long it has been for the characters between sessions, something which would help give a better sense of their developing relationships.

Nonetheless it is great to see a piece about teenagers that feels genuine and actually exhibits the voices of young people rather than imitating them. Sunrise’s casual inclusivity and compassionate outlook is a heartening sign of the kinds of stories Gen Z are capable of telling and I, a being so ancient I referenced Blossom in this review, look forward to more of it.

Sunrise plays Q Loft 24-27 February, 2021. 

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