Truck Stop | Q Theatre CompanyPhotos – Amanda James

Truck Stop
is promoted as a play that every parent of teenagers must see, which made it sound, to me at least, like a very worthy, or possibly scare mongering exposé on the dangers threatening our youth.

Truck Stop is a salutary insight into worrying contemporary teenage sexual mores and the resulting pressures faced by young people. As you might expect from Lachlan Philpott, it is a disarmingly sophisticated, complex and well written play that is neither didactic nor sensational, nor judgemental. It is, in fact, immensely compassionate and a call to adults to watch out for their children and to protect them and for kids to protect themselves.

This newly commissioned work has just transferred to the Seymour Centre from its debut season at the Q Theatre in Penrith. Katrina Douglas' in your face, high energy and tightly directed production, featuring four outstanding performers, is well worth a night in the theatre.

Truck Stop is based on a real situation and Lachlan Philpott developed the script over 10 months interviewing teenagers, teachers and counsellors in the Western suburbs of Sydney. It is the story of two 14 year old girls who, motivated by a game of truth or dare, turn tricks at their local truck stop during their lunch break from school, until some decent truck driver, with girls their age, puts a stop to it.

Philpott creates a bleak milieu in which the kids, deprived on a number of levels, lack the adequate emotional scaffolding of support to help them take their first steps into adulthood. They derive their notions of maturity from the highly sexualised images of girl power/raunch culture personified in popular culture by the likes of Lady Gaga and others. Sexting, having sex, pornography, the perils of social media, racism: these are some of the hurdles the kids in this play have to navigate.

As Philpott peels away his theatrical onion we see their sexual posturing belies a lack of self-esteem and genuine independence or control. At 14, they are still very much children with little understanding of the ramifications of their behaviour.

Philpott uses elements of verbatim theatre to explore the lives of three teenage friends. The girls narrate their story, often talking in unison or repeating each other's lines, or talking over each other, like a high voltage Greek chorus. At any given moment there is a lot happening onstage. Often two characters relate their stories simultaneously. Their monologues have been sliced and diced to create a constant sense of drama. The language and subject matter is raw and confronting and the actors are completely authentic in their portrayal. Director, Katrina Douglas deftly manages the highly orchestrated script and has elicited both the bravado and the abject vulnerability of the characters.

Sam (Eryn Jean Norvill), the narcissistic leader, is an interesting character who we might think should know better, given that she comes from a stable and caring family, unlike her neglected friend Kelly (Jessica Tovey).

Lacking empathy and insight she is full of anger for no apparent reason, is disconnected with reality and lives in a fantasy world, fuelled by music clips and trashy film stars. Norvill cleverly portrays this alpha character who derives her worth from being the first with boyfriends and sex, setting the agenda for the others. She eventually reaches a point at which she feels defiled by her boyfriend whose dehumanising view of sex has been shaped by pornography. Sam: "See the pics of my eyes and ears and hands and my elbows? I'm more than just two tits Trent." Despite these feelings, she seems happy to put up with it until she catches him sexting with another girl.

The third friend in their gang – the SKANKS (it's ironic according to them!) – is a new Indian immigrant, Aisha (Kristy Best). Her values – respect for her parents, honesty and diligence – are in sharp contrast to her friends' and act as a counterpoint.

While it might be easy to blame raunch culture for what happens, the play and production point us back to the underlying problem which is neglect and abuse, which leaves young girls vulnerable. The reason that Aisha is able to prevail is not because of the authoritarianism of her parents, but because the love and the care they have exercised throughout her life has shaped her moral framework.

The performances of Norvill, Tovey and Best as the girls are uniformly strong, as is the impressive work from Elena Carapetis who plays all the other roles from doctor, counsellor, mothers and grungy teenage boy.

Philpott's oppressive imagery of heat, flies and no escape is reflected in Michael Hankin's set: long metal benches surround a patch of concrete, which confines the action. Sean Bacon's video images of the girls acting like pop stars, cut between images of cockroaches and flies crawling across the screen, reinforce the tone.

Truck Stop is a thought provoking and deeply challenging play that doesn't offer easy solutions and in fact, poses more questions than it answers.

The Q Theatre Company in association with Seymour Centre present
by Lachlan Philpott

Directed by Katrina Douglas

Venue: Seymour Centre, Cnr City Road & Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Dates: 6 – 23 June, 2012
Tickets: $40 – $35
Bookings: (02) 9351 7940 |

Most read Sydney reviews

More from this author