What does communication really mean?


19 Jul 2023

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 through our Ambassadors program. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not reflect the views of Canberra Youth Theatre or its staff.

Alexi Clark-Mitchell, one of our 2023 Ambassadors, reviews Sympathetic Resonance presented by Canberra Youth Theatre’s Emerge Company at Gorman Arts Centre.

Sympathetic Resonance is a show about communication and connection, explored through a series of vignettes, performed and devised by Canberra Youth Theatre’s Emerge Company. The seven actors, Lachlan Houen, Charlie Lehmann, Teagan Matthews, Emily O’Mahoney, Zoe Ross, Disa Swifte, and Matt White, along with director Christopher Carroll, wrote and devised the play in just three months, which is an impressive feat. 

Sympathetic Resonance explores what it means to communicate, how people communicate with each other and with the environment around us. Each scene explores a different example of communication from Grindr hookups to dancing bees. Threaded throughout the production are surprise renditions of the power ballad ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra, which often end in the murder of the unfortunate performer. 

Our generation is dealing with all the usual ‘coming of age’ issues such as dating, exploring our sexuality, and figuring out who we are, but we are doing this against the backdrop of a climate and biodiversity crisis, a global pandemic, and the growing influence of information technology over our lives. Although young people have taken a leadership role in the movement for climate action, we are also over-represented in surveys around climate anxiety. Similarly, although we have embraced online communication and social media, the pandemic cut us off from in-person communication and created an air of disconnect. These issues were highlighted in the piece in really interesting ways with scenes about a charity for turtles, an alpha male training session, and trying to commune with the dead. Sympathetic Resonance explores our communication and (dis)connections with each other, with animals, and with the wider environment. 

The set for the show, designed by the cast and director Christopher Carroll, is fairly minimalist, consisting of a complex string web hung at the back of the theatre, some chairs and small props. The costumes are also minimalist, with the actors wearing black and white. This minimalist background and costuming helps to highlight the versatility of the actors, as they switch characters from scene to scene. 

The whole cast is very strong, and this is fundamentally a piece of ensemble theatre, but some particular performances stand out. These include a party scene, lead by Zoe Ross and Charlie Lehmann, which features the inner monologues of two friends who are feeling disconnected from each other and who have different desires for their relationship. This is a beautiful example of a long time friendship failing because of a lack of communication. It finishes with the powerful line “I don’t know if I feel anything for her anymore”. 

Another stellar example is the ensemble-led piece that uses debates around the communication of ants and communication through smell to explore death and grief. The use of music in this scene (specifically, various renditions of Patrick Gilmore’s “The Ants Go Marching”) is powerful and helps to create the changing atmosphere, from poignant one minute, to sombre the next, and finally darkly humorous. This rapidly shifting emotional atmosphere is a consistent theme in the piece overall. The cast manage to have the audience crying one minute and laughing the next, keeping us on our toes and fully engaged in the moment. 

As a whole, Sympathetic Resonance is an excellent play which addresses many issues such as climate change and issues surrounding gender and sexuality politics. The show highlights the importance and complexity of communication and connection. Audiences leave the theatre having laughed, cried and everything in between, but mostly with a deeper understanding of what communication really is and how we can all do it better in our day to day lives.

Alexi Clark-Mitchell is an emerging young actor who is passionate about the performing arts. They have been performing with Canberra Youth Theatre since 2019 including performing in the ensemble of Dags in 2022 and playing Chris in the Australian premiere of The Trials in 2023. They are currently undertaking a double major in Drama at Dickson college and have been cast in the school production Tess of the D’urbervilles as Felix Clair and Retty Priddle. Alexi is interested in pursuing a range of opportunities in theatre and film, and is particularly interested in pursuing a career in film. As a non-binary actor, Alexi is able to portray roles across the gender spectrum.