Adapted by Shannon Molloy. Adapted by Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij with Shannon Molloy. Shake and Stir Theatre Co and QPAC. Director Nick Skubij. Riverside Theatre Parramatta. 3-4 May, 2024

Reviewed : May 3rd, 2024 *

Photo : David Fell

This wonderful, troubling, but gentle story about a teenager growing up gay in a football mad catholic boys’ school in rural Queensland was only in Sydney for two short days before a four-month tour of the eastern states then a move to Adelaide. How lucky were those of us who braved the wild weather this weekend to see it!

Fourteen is yet another brilliant adaptation from the Shake and Stir team. Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij always find just the right way to stay steadfastly true to the original work yet make entertaining, thought-provoking theatre.

They have worked with award winning journalist Shannon Molloy to convert his telling memoir Fourteen into a beautiful piece of theatre that recreates the boy he was at 14, the ignorant abusive bullies in his Year 9 classroom – and the parents and friends who saved his life.

Photo : David Fell

Skubij directs seven actors to depict that year in a fast-moving 100 minutes that capture not only the incipient, homophobic ignorance of his ‘boofy’ fellow students – and some of the equally ignorant staff – but the understanding of his staunch mother, protective brother and sister, wise art teacher … and the support of friends who appreciated his loyalty, sensitivity and creativity.

Conor Leach plays Shannon Molloy, sharing his story with the audience in between scenes that depict graphic but cleverly written moments from ‘that year’ in his life. Leach reaches through the fourth wall in a performance that is perceptive, heart wrenching and wryly amusing. He finds not just the confusions of sexuality but the many other bewildering uncertainties of growing up as well as the importance of being true to yourself, loyal … and brave.

Leon Cain, Karen Crone, Judy Hainsworth, Ryan Hodson, Amy Ingram and Steven Rooke take on the roles of the different people in his life, moving from classroom to playground or home to park, in quick, vibrant pictures that are moving and upsetting, but tinged with humour and insight.

Each character they play is clearly defined but never laboured. Because the dialogue is economic, the language real, the humour touching. They are the kids who teased you … or shared their dreams with you; the teacher that put you down … or the one that “got you”; the parents you remember … or are yourselves. They are the the people of Molloy’s memoir brought to life on the stage in deft depictions by a clever, energetic cast and a director who realises their potential.

Photo : David Fell

Josh McIntosh designs clever sets that are transportable but skilfully re-create the time and place of the adaptations Shake and Stir take ‘on the road’. In this set he uses the full height of the acting space to create the frame of a two-storey tenement-type building. Stairs, a terrace and a slatted box provide a range of levels. Desks and chairs are ‘raced’ on and off the stage in short transitions that are backed by thumping music and coloured lights that flash through the many windows on the set. Those transitions are amazing snippets of theatre in themselves.

The collaboration between designers McIntosh, Trent Suidgeest (lighting) and Guy Webster (sound and composition) provides director Nick Skubij with the perfect space to take Shannon from cruel classroom, to happy home; from an imaginative fashion parade to a successful exchange student interview. To a place of contemplation that he shares openly with the audience.

Fellow designer Fabian Holford somehow organises costumes that can be changed quickly enough to take the cast from grey school uniforms to colourful day wear; from schoolboy to mother or teenage girl or ocker father. Changes that are just a momentary as the scene changes.

Shake and Stir describes Fourteen as a “moving coming-of-age memoir about adversity and tragedy (that) is also a story of resilience, hope and hilarity.”

Check their website for the tour dates:

First published in Stage Whispers magazine

*Opening performance