A self-aware story of love, friendship and idealism.
Matthew Bertram and Alistair Ward. Image: Jacinta Oaten.
Alistair Ward’s Twenty-something is a play about the young and restless, and their foibles, struggles and quest for meaning. It is self-consciously autobiographical. Ward deals with his struggles around work, personal relationships and identity in a way that would ring true for a lot of twenty-somethings. The ennui, (self-inflicted) failure at love and desperation to be understood by loved ones – these are all recognisably familiar. Ward brings his authentic self to the show, and he tells it like it is. There are moments of tension in the play but its pace is mostly languid.
Ward shows us how messy it can get when our idealised notions about love and friendship get in the way of real friendship, particularly during times of transition and change.
For artists and creators, times of transition from training into work can be particularly challenging. This emerges strongly in the play. Ward’s character, Thomas, has returned from drama school in New York and is trying to find his feet in Melbourne, but it hasn’t been easy. His best friend, Josh (Matt Bertram), thinks that Thomas has been self-indulgent and indolent. Thomas’s lack of progress on the work (and life) front has begun to grate on Josh, who rather abruptly cuts Thomas off. There’s a great deal of acrimony and misunderstanding between these two, and this state of affairs speaks to the difficulty of maintaining friendships when life has come to a standstill. Thomas’s obsessive need for a rapprochement with Josh gets in the way of his other relationships, and the impasse only ends when they acknowledge their mismatched expectations. Thomas’s desperate need to be understood by Josh is understandable; nevertheless, it is frustrating to watch him wallow in pain and squander opportunities to make other friends.
The highlight of the play is Thomas’s too-brief dalliance with Patrick (Patrick Ryan). Ryan plays a loveable romantic whose awkward, apologetic and considerate manner makes him very endearing. His curiosity about and attraction to Thomas are sadly not reciprocated (Thomas comes across as quite self-involved), and the play shows how something that has potential and is attainable can too easily be overlooked in favour of the unattainable (in this case, ostensibly, greater intimacy with Josh). Ryan is an excellent actor who knows how to play a nerdy but appealing type.
One gets the impression that this play serves a cathartic purpose. Ward shows us what his life was like during a difficult transitory period, and he appears to be reflecting on this time from a better place in his life. He has a self-aware approach to storytelling. Twenty-somethings have much going for them (youth, greater connectivity, opportunities to travel the world, etc.), but have plenty of hurdles to cross on their path to self-fulfilment.
3.5 stars out of 5 ★★★☆
Writer and director: Alistair Ward
Producers: Mashaka Gunnulson, Rachel Iampolski, Alistair Ward
Cast: Alistair Ward, Matt Bertram, Patrick Ryan
12-14 September 2019
Hares and Hyenas, Fitzroy VIC
Presented as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival, 12-29 September 2019