We’re all about promoting the voice of youth and providing a platform for young people to share their experiences and develop their critical voice. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Canberra Youth Theatre or its staff.
Ella Buckley wrote this review of our first production for 2022, Dags by Debra Oswald.
In a delightful blast of neon, scrunchies, classic 80s tunes and geometric patterns, Canberra Youth Theatre’s production of Dags encapsulates the teenage experience in all its awkward, funny, and sometimes melodramatic, glory. Written by Debra Oswald in the 80s, Dags follows Gillian, played by Jade Breen, as she struggles with the growing pains of adolescence. The blast to the past, yet grounded in the present style of production highlights how universal the growing pains of adolescence are, no matter the decade you experienced it in. Expressing the sometimes all consuming and often humorous experiences of changing friendships, low self-esteem, puzzling and awkward attempts at romance and relationships, the cast of Dags do it all with genuinity, humour and style.
A stand out element of the production is how the performers and creatives have approached the characters and plot lines in the play. They artfully balance the comedy and melodrama of teenage life without sacrificing the integrity of, or invalidating the characters’ struggles.
Breen’s strong performance effortlessly invites the audience into Gillian’s world and acts as a guide as they connect us directly to the action of the play. The ensemble cast commits admirably to the energy and characterisation of the show, working cohesively to bring the world of Dags to life. Together, they have the audience laughing, feeling the second hand embarrassment and most importantly, they made the story relatable. For the teens currently experiencing it, and the adults who have made it to the other side, the cast and creatives simultaneously remind and represent how those experiences felt.
The dynamic staging and directorial choices provide a clear understanding of how important it is to validate the teenage experience in all its aspects. Whilst embodying the overdramatic and big emotions, Dags doesn’t present a necessarily ‘realistic’ portrayal of events, but rather encapsulates and focuses on how those moments feel as a youth.
Theatre has been described as a reflection of the world around us, and Canberra Youth Theatre’s compelling and high quality production design takes the saying to a whole new level. Immediately demanding attention upon entering the theatre is the unconventional and intriguing set design. Utilising a floor and wall covered in a reflective silver surface and several large coloured foam geometric blocks, Dags presents a fascinating set like no other.
The blocks prove an asset used to create the silhouette of several locations, and further proves Dags’ relevance to a modern audience by allowing us to endow the suggestions of Gillian’s surroundings with images of our own. The wonderfully engaging and hilarious scene changes to boppy 80s ballads by the ensemble keep the audience wanting more, turning what could be merely a pause or transition in action into enriching, world building moments. Complementing the set design, the artful use of lighting and sound enhance the world, accenting the moods of characters and life of the locations. It’s the creative’s attention to detail and determination to not overlook any aspect of production that truly enhances the audience experience, transporting us wholly into the world of Dags. It would be a crime not to mention the absolutely delightful, fun and quirky costumes that provide the audience with that all important 80s feel.
Dags makes a point in showcasing how despite the differences between the present and the past, we can all connect and relate to the emotions and difficult nature of teenagehood. Throughout watching, I could not escape how relatable I found it to be, seeing moments play out on stage that were all too familiar. With Dags, Canberra Youth Theatre asserts not only the universality of the growing pains of youth in any decade, but also how important, powerful and talented youth theatre can be. Dags is truly a show not to be missed.
Ella Buckley is a passionate young performer who loves all aspects of theatre. Ella has enjoyed a variety of performance opportunities, both inside and outside of school. A few of Ella’s favourite roles include: Laurie Morton in Brighton Beach Memoirs (Canberra Rep 2020); Eliza Wishart in Jasper Jones and Mary Bennet in Pride & Prejudice (Budding Theatre 2019); and Ensemble in Don’t Walk Alone and Messenger 1 in Little Girls Alone in the Woods (Canberra Youth Theatre 2021).