Stunt Double: Following an Afterthought


19 March 2024

Canberra Youth Theatre is dedicated to raising the voices of young people, and helping them have their say about theatre, the arts, and everything in between. Our Young Critics program provides emerging voices the platform to share reviews such as the one below. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Canberra Youth Theatre or its staff.

Jacqueline Collier, one of our Canberra Youth Theatre Young Critics, reviews the The Farm production of Stunt Double at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

Image Credit – Jade Ferguson.

Stunt Double blurs the boundary between cast and crowd, exploring identity politics within the exploitative setting of the Australian film industry. “Inside every work of art is a question,” we are told, and this show certainly doesn’t shy away from the difficult ones. Set during the 1970s, a time commended for its activism and progressive politics, Stunt Double reminds us of the voices that remained unheard, and explores the complexities of identity.

We find ourselves watching an active filmset. Volunteers from the audience are called up to participate in the production of the scene. The stage buzzes with activity, and with chaos. Leading man, Patrick (Gavin Webber), plays an everyday Australian who accidentally gets himself into a brawl. Well, sort of. As soon as the real action begins, that’s when his stunt double, Steve (David Carberry), takes over. Steve tussles with his opponent; they throw each other around, slide across surfaces, and smack each other with bottles and pool cues. The scene climaxes with Steve flipping above the pool table. The audience applauds. But not everyone is impressed. Patrick interrupts the scene multiple times, worrying more about his upcoming line delivery than how he just ruined the take. Steve has to redo the fight scene from the start, straining his body for an audience that won’t bother to learn his name. Patrick interrupts again. The director (Grayson Millwood) is ignorant of how much of himself Steve gives to the film. Doting, instead, on his lead actor, stroking his already oversized ego. For him, people like Steve are expendable. They don’t matter. They’re the first to be forgotten when the film comes out.

It’s a clever way to investigate the nature of identity. The contrast between actors and stunt doubles brings into question our perception of others. We are reminded that the people we strive to emulate aren’t exactly real—they’re our creations, designed by an outsider’s perspective, designed by an active audience. We only see a version of someone else. Having a stunt double briefly take on the identity of another’s performance brings attention to the authenticity of this idea of ‘self’. When we emulate someone, do we trespass over their identity, or do we use them as inspiration? And where do we draw the line?

Another focal point of the show is the treatment of women in the film industry. I feel that this topic was addressed very explicitly, and would have preferred a more subtle approach to the matter. It felt like the viewer’s intelligence was being constantly undermined by the play who kept saying, in case you haven’t got it yet, this is about women. They were treated really badly, guys. Are you listening? Women had it a lot harder than men. And it’s still an issue. Do you get it?

Patrick himself experiences an identity crisis. He is, after all, the prototypical Australian larrikin, so why does the director insist on him delivering a more Euro-style performance? Why does what worked for him in the past not work so well anymore? As his once adored personality begins to lose its shine, he finds a scapegoat in Steve. I find this to be an incredibly interesting portrayal on our unwillingness to see our own flaws, and how we project them onto others.

Instead of dealing with himself, Patrick finds fault in that external version of himself, his double.

The two have a dramatic fall out. The whole cast and crew watch silently as the violence escalates, and the director makes sure the camera is rolling. Audiences loves violence, that’s for sure. Patrick grips a cricket bat; Steve is at his mercy. Steve falls to the ground. The curtain falls.

But it’s not over. The audience now finds themselves at an award ceremony. The host tells us that we “enable this magic.” Our amusement makes space for a slither of guilt. The director, Patrick, and Maureen (Kate Harman) claim their trophy. The audience roars. Then the curtain rises for a final time. We see the rest of the cast and crew on set, all forgotten. We are reminded of the volunteers from the start of the show who never got to return to their seats. We are reminded that the film industry exploits people just like us.

Jacqueline Collier is an up-and-coming writer with ambitions to shake up Australia’s literary landscape. She has recently been involved in local theatre productions in her hometown in regional Western Australia. She is currently working on multiple written projects, ranging from poems to plays. Her goal is to create inspiring and challenging content which provokes a small thought from her readers, sealing it in their memory. She believes a little goes a long way.