DO I frighten you?” asks the 13-year-old Lucy in Playthings.
The tiny teenager (Courtney Henri) often backs up her words with a sharp box knife.
Written by Scott McArdle, the play is a dark look at growing up in suburban WA and centres around Lucy and another 13-year-old Arnold (Daniel Buckle).
They both struggle to live with a secret, but deal with it in very different ways.
Lucy uses rage and aggression, while nerdy Arnold is bullied and tries to keep a low profile at school.
The pair form an unlikely friendship, drawn together by the burden of concealing their dark secrets.
The adults in Playthings have their own crosses to bear, including English teacher Miss Richards (Siobhan Dow-Hall) and Lucy’s stepdad Rhys (St John Cowcher).
There’s a sinister edge to the play, and when Lucy leads Arnold into bushland to find a kangaroo that’s bleeding to death, you could feel the tension in the audience.
But despite the heavy themes, there are lighter moments including a great dance routine by Arnold that had the young woman next to me snorting loudly with laughter.
While writing the play, McArle says he drew on his school years and the death of two young friends in freak accidents.
“The effect that trauma can have on young people, whether though accidents, abuse or being caught in the crossfire of life, is irreversible, incomprehensible and life changing,” he says.
“It’s here we can see vicious cycles, violent cycles, beginning to emerge: mental illness, drug use, self-harm, violence to others and suicide.
“Our job as adults…is to do our best to ensure a better life for those just starting out. To protect and guide and love all of the children in our lives.”
The theatre may be small, but the story is not, he concludes.
“It’s a story of us, of people like us, and that’s never small.”
Playthings is on at the Blue Room Theatre in Northbridge until November 23. Tix at blueroom.org.au
by JENNY D’ANGER