Connecting with young people about dangers like hoon driving can be tricky. 

 NORPA and La BoiteRoundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane Thursday, 26 August, 2010 
Connecting with young people about dangers like hoon driving can be tricky. It doesn’t seem to matter how many teenagers die in car crashes, they keep coming, harder and faster. Engine is an engaging piece about the devastation of losing a family member to the road and has the potential to send a “slow down” message to audiences through entertainment. Melanie Zanetti gave just the type of sincere performance that could successfully reach young adults. Her character, Tash, is a high school student struggling with the loss of her brother, Stevie, to a car accident. She acts out by cutting herself and withdrawing from her previous life, becoming obsessed with Stevie’s unfinished engine rebuild in the family’s garage. Her Grumpop, as he’s affectionately called, played by Bob Baines, was working on the car with Stevie before he died. He resists from doing the same with Tash in fear of failing her in the same way he feels he did Stevie. He blames himself for not getting the car up and running faster so his grandson could have been in control of his own way home that fateful night. The characters act out present and past moments taking us through the build up to the crash and the aftermath. Zanetti and Baines play a mix of roles including Tash’s parents and Stevie.  The mother spends her days at home in her dressing gown with no intention to return to work. It’s like she’s forgotten she ever had another child, and the same neglect is shown from her father who is preoccupied with changing young driver laws. Also involved was a chorus, performed by four Clairvaux MacKillips College drama students. They were supposed to represent young people in cars and the consequences car crashes can have on the community. Their slow-motion mime of the behaviour that led to the crash that killed Stevie and two of his mates was powerful as it harmonized with great composition by Matt Hill. However, I found the remainder of their presence ineffective in signifying the community’s reaction to the crash and sometimes a distraction from the lead performances. Zanetti and Baines were at their strongest as Tash and Grumpop communicated about their personal struggles dealing with the family tragedy. Zanetti also had some compelling moments as the mother but some of the transitions were awkward and at times confusing. This was the same when Grumpop sometimes changed to dad. Most of the time however, subtle costume modifications indicated a role change. Baines fluently swapped from Grumpop to young Stevie and was very convincing as an innocent teenage boy with all the right ideas but none of the experience necessary to apply them correctly. They were both consummate performances that reached intensely emotional heights. An out-of-place but very well done scene included Zanetti, Baines and two of the chorus as crash test dummies testing the safety of a vehicle with a newly installed air bag. Zanetti and Baines as Bob and Larry were very comical and enjoyably contrasting to the other roles. It didn’t fit with the play’s tone whatsoever but was good entertainment value all the same. Set design by Justin Nardella was an appropriate space for the garage and included some quirks like the fridge that doubled as a door. Engine has a worthy and meaningful foundation with a strong cast that effectively showed how individual’s cope with tragedy. A few elements could have been altered or ironed out to be more influential, but overall it’s another success from La Boite’s 2010 season. Until 11 September 2010
Bookings at www.laboite.com.au

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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