Faebian Averies’ first play Detention presents us with two young girls, Olive (played by Averies herself) and Mary (Hari Hodgetts), both pupils in a catholic high school in the late 90s, who find themselves together in detention for an hour (the actual running time of the play was closer to 45 minutes – I will come back to that). The nun supposed to keep an eye on them has dozed off – maybe she’s dead. Olive is a bit of a bully, Mary is a bit of a boring goody two-shoes with an itch for rebellion, but their forced cohabitation leads to a moment of mutual sharing and, perhaps, friendship.
As detentions go, this is a very emotionally packed one, and unfortunately at times the writing suffers from it slightly. To say all that they had to say, the girls often burst out in long, unnatural outpourings of feelings: these weighed the dialogue down, and did not bring this reviewer any closer to empathizing with Mary and Olive’s anguish. Where Averies excels, however, is in her portrayal of adolescent sass and expressions of nascent sexuality (a blasé fellatio? Yes please. Well no, but you see what I mean). In this regard, Olive, who is the more expansive one of the two, occasionally overshadows sweet, but stuck-up Mary.
Class, and Mary and Olive’s very distinct experiences of what your position in society does and doesn’t enable you to do, is the other crux of the play: when Mary’s mammy gives her a hard time, she knows she can turn to the school’s benevolent Sisters, or to Childline. Olive, on the other hand, has become hardened by years of indifference and irresponsibility from the adults who were meant to help and look after her. As a result, it is no wonder that her outlook on the world has grown to be rather grimmer than sweet, sweet Mary’s (can you tell, at this point, that this character had me rolling my eyes slightly?). Both characters’ predicaments rang true, but Mary’s expressions of sympathy, and her tendency to textbook declarations of the middle-class-people-have-a-hard-time-too type, were not really enough to cross the bridge between the two girls, even seeming out of place at times. As Olive has it, Mary can be a ‘motivational fucking speaker’ all she likes, her experience and Olive’s remain incompatible. The play would have us think otherwise, but it is hard to feel completely sold to its optimism.
The production premiered in a small venue in Cardiff, with rather simple décor and costumes. A blackboard, a few educational signs, and two tables are enough to suggest the atmosphere of a classroom. I was sometimes wondering if more could have been made of our position in the room, and the fact that both characters have to walk through the audience – are we the other students, or even the sleeping nun supposed to watch over the girls? And if so, by the end of the play, are we awake?
Both Averies and Hodgetts strike the right note in their interpretations and make very believable teenagers. It’s not Hodgetts’ fault if one (me) occasionally fails to empathise with her character. Both actresses show a real earnestness in their portrayals of two young girls frustrated with their lives and their lack of control over them. The fact that the play ends up being slightly shorter than the intended hour is a testament to the interpreters’ keenness and intensity.
The play had a very short run here in Cardiff, but who knows if it will not be shown again, in Wales or elsewhere. Were I to see it again, I would like Averies’ qualities as a comedic writer to come to the fore even more, but you may disagree.