Theatre review: This Is Where We Live

A visceral story of young people attempting to break free.

On a bare stage, two young actors play out a story that bleeds.

The title of the play, This is Where We Live, could refer to various states of living explored in the play: the physical location of a small town where options are limited; the metaphysical space inhabited by the two main characters as they attempt to connect, or the socio-economic spaces where they live their separate lives.

Chloe ‘from the Underworld’ and ‘odd boy’ Chris inhabit the same physical space, an unnamed small Aussie town with a train running through it. In a world with ingrained class systems and gender roles, not to mention societal, educational and economic barriers, this story depicts their sweet-clumsy attempts to free themselves from their predestined futures. 

Playing in the Melbourne Fringe Festival, This is Where We Live is presented by Feet First Collective, directed by Teresa Izzard and written by Vivienne Walshe. The production is minimal, with controlled and claustrophobic lighting, two classroom chairs, a pair of glasses, a backpack and a book the only means for Lauren Beeton (Chloe) and Samuel Addison (Chris) to play out the drama. Not that they need much more than the language and their superb acting to bring the story to life. 

The two young actors are extraordinary in their range and ability to evoke emotion with a simple eyebrow raise or head tilt. The direction provided by Izzard and vocal performance coach Donald Woodburn has yielded exquisite and heartfelt performances from both. Each actor inhabits at least three characters, using subtle shifts in pose, the minimal props, and minor voice changes to evoke the energy, emotions and even the beliefs of these various characters. 

The play feels like a Young Adult novel made flesh, with all its hope and longing and missed communications. The language is at times poetic, at times brutal, with a lyrical, startling quality that draws the audience in. At first, Chloe’s acerbic and derogatory comments about her classmates (and herself) are uncomfortable to hear, but as she lets Chris in and adjusts to the possibility of hope, her overt prickliness subsides.

Walshe’s writing is visceral, captivating and confronting, veering from aggressive swearing to onomatopoeia to rhyming couplets.

The style of delivery is initially jarring, as the characters don’t always act out a scene, instead describing the actions in little asides. When Chloe walks, Beeton says, ‘Gravel, gravel, pause, stare …’ When the two finally kiss, they tell us rather than show us. In this minimalist style of storytelling, we’re constantly reminded this play is a story, not real life, only to be drawn back into the drama by an intensely acted crescendo. The audience – like Chloe and Chris – experience emotional whiplash as the style changes and the story rises to its powerful climax.

Deceptively simple in its visuals, This is Where We Live is complex and tense, telling a multi-layered story of family violence, disability, hopelessness, emotional abuse, parental expectations and the systems that work against young people trying to free themselves from their life trajectories. Packed with psychological insight into the impacts of trauma, family violence and disability on young people, the play provides insight into the trapped lives in which many young people find themselves. It’s compelling viewing, and the story and performances will stay with me for a while.

Read: Theatre review: SLUTNIK™

At the end of the production on opening night, Samuel Addison says to the audience, ‘If you liked the play, tell your friends. If you didn’t like it, tell your enemies.’ So here I am, telling some friends: go and see This is Where We Live before it finishes this Friday.

This Is Where We Live by Vivienne Walshe
Theatreworks, Melbourne
Producer, Director and Movement Coach: Teresa Izzard
Designer: Samuel Addison
Dramaturg and Vocal Performance Coach: Donald Woodburn
Associate Producer and Sound Designer: Lauren Beeton
Original Lighting Designer: Dylan Dorotich
Photographer, Videographer, Graphic Designer and Sound Editor: John Congear

Actors: Lauren Beeton, Samuel Addison

Tickets: $20-$30

This Is Where We live will be performed until 14 October 2022 as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival

Vicki Renner writes across genres and audiences, from YA historical fiction to social media posts in numerous part-time roles. When she's not writing she's fundraising for conservation projects.