Theatre review: IRL, Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane

A cosplay meet-cute where the ordinary meets the extroverted.
IRL. Image is a boy in a pink shirt with a boy in a koala onesie wrapping his arms around him.

Finishing the theatre year with a teenage dream costume extravaganza, La Boite has delivered just in time for the silly season.

With the rise of popular TV teen dramas such as Heartbreak High and Sex Education, it was about time that these teen stories hit our Australian mainstages. Playwright Lewis Treston believes theatre for young people belongs in our mainstage seasonal offerings, and IRL is a prime example, taking this romantic queer fantasy into an action-packed 90-minute production.

Seventeen-year-old Alexei (Will Bartolo) is about to meet his internet crush Thaddeus (Byron Lankester Howells) in real life. They plan the meet-cute at a cosplay convention, but the anticipation fizzles when Thaddeus doesn’t show up. Blaming his Disney princess get-up for the ghosting, Alexei goes to the bathroom to send a goodbye text. That’s when he finds Thaddeus in a compromised position – with his clothes stolen.

Alexei decides to get a real feel for Thaddeus by not telling him who he really is. Alexei helps Thaddeus into a costume, breaks into the convention and then spends the afternoon looking for, well, himself.

Director Sanja Simić sets a fast pace where the action rarely slows down. A chase ensues after security staff start looking for the convention break-ins and, after several costume changes, the real Alexei is exposed. It’s only then that Alexei and Thaddeus can get to know who they really are in real life.

Bartolo is on fire as the in-love teen with his comedic timing on point. He is in tune with the audience and takes us along for the ride with every teenage thought and feeling. 

Lankester Howells is the man of your teenage dreams if that man is an awkward nerdy 17-year-old who knows all the movie references in the world.

Alexei’s bestie Taylor (Rachel Nutchey) is also attending the cosplay convention, and is possessed by a spirit that spirals her into a wild adventure of her own. Under the sea and into the forest we go on magical little ride with Taylor who wants to destroy pop culture for good. Playing 10 characters, Nutchey puts the “cos” in cosplay, especially with her vaping French costumier Madam Malheur, who received a round of applause on opening night.

There’s nowhere to hide in this production and who would want to, with the elaborate costumes, designed by Anthony Spinaze and realised by Mick McKeague. The audience has no choice but to relish in the weird and wacky. From Disney princesses to Pikachu and the Cheshire Cat, it looks as though the whole costume department at La Boite has exploded onstage. 

Just as Rosalind disguises herself in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It, Alexei does the same. It’s a clever nod and another of Treston’s queer takes on a classic, after his La Boite adaptation of An Ideal Husband and his Sydney Theatre Company production, Hubris & Humiliation.

Read: Festival review: The Unconformity, Queenstown

Sitting next to a teen who gave a “LOL” to every joke on opening night, this reviewer found IRL clearly a crowd pleaser for younger audiences, with plenty of silliness for the young at heart.

Presented by La Boite Theatre
Roundhouse Theatre, Brisbane
Playwright: Lewis Treston 
Director: Sanja Simić 
Lighting Design: Ben Hughes 
Sound Design and Composition: Wil Hughes 

Set and Costume Design Anthony Spinaze 

Design Realiser: Mick McKeague 
Fight, Intimacy and Movement Direction: Nigel Poulton 
Fish Choreography: Sammie Williams 
Stage Manager: Nicole Neil 
Rehearsal Stage Manager: Jacinta Way 

Assistant Stage Manager: Kayla Cahill 
Director Observership Participants: Grace Wilson, Jordan Stott 

Cast: Will Bartolo, Byron Lankester Howells, Rachel Nutchey

Tickets: from $39

IRL will be performed until 25 November 2023.

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.