London-based Australian writer Rita Kalnejais’ inter-species Romeo and Juliet is one of the most eccentric and beguiling coming-of-age stories you will ever encounter.
Sebastian (Basti to his parents) is 14. He’s small for his age, bullied at school and his mum is in care after a mental breakdown. His dad Simon is non-too efficient when it comes to the basics of parenting.
Basti has got it into his head that a homemade fox stole will be the thing to cheer his mum up. So he sets a trap.
Into it scampers Rdeca, the youngest of three fox kits out on their first unaccompanied night-time expedition.
Maglite and butterknife in hand, Basti is determined to do the horrible deed but his resolve melts in a minute. YouTube tutorials on how to skin a fox don’t mention what to do when it starts talking to you.
What follows is a joyfully heated portrayal of first love, the irreversible changes it brings about, and the obstacles placed in its way.
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Staged on a green hillock from which an armchair emerges like some ancient artefact (a very effective Ella Butler design), Lee Lewis’ ebullient and vividly performed production is charming, physically dynamic and emotionally dense.
Lewis’ casting choices are spot-on, led by a wide-eyed and lithe Sarah Meacham as Rdeca and Bardiya McKinnon as Basti. The development of their relationship, to the point where these giddy teens can’t hands and paws off each other is truthfully played and because of that, nothing that transpires between Rdeca and Basti feels in any way ‘unnatural’ – not even when they’re caught making out.
Rebecca Massey is both fierce and fearful as Rdeca’s recently (and horribly) widowed mother Cochineal. Matthew Whittet plays a hapless mole and is very funny as Basti’s under-employed dad, whose roving eye is captured by the party girl (the excellent Amy Hack) who lives in the flat upstairs.
Hack also plays Rdeca’s slightly older sibling Gustina, with Guy Simon doubling as fox brother Thoreau and Rovis, a bad-tempered yard dog on a long chain always spoiling for a fight.
David Bergman’s galloping score makes a big impact but in the end, it’s the depth of emotion and flashes of wildness displayed by the animal and human characters on stage that propel the show. One hundred or so minutes flash by.
Passionate and delightful, First Love is the Revolution is recommended without hesitation. Take a teenager along for the ride.