First Love is the Revolution. Pic: Brett Boardman Reviews, Stage First Love is the Revolution review (Griffin Theatre, Sydney) By Jason Whittaker | November 14, 2019 | ★★★★★ ★★★★★ Have any two lovers been as star-cross’d as Basti and Rdeca? Fourteen-year-old Basti (short for Sebastian) has a broken heart from a broken home. Reserved, withdrawn, trying to get through the day with bullies at school and a volatile dad, hoping for something more. Rdeca is wilder, freer, but facing daunting tests of maturity from an anxious helicopter mum. They spy each other by moonlight from their very different worlds, drawn together by absent parents, adolescent angst and a shared struggle to make sense of it all. Also, it’s probably worth mentioning, Basti is a human boy. And Rdeca is a young fox. Designer Ella Butler gives us a storybook set of lush, undulating fields that conjures big skies in such a small space. That, I promise, isn’t a spoiler. We learn it almost instantly. And while this romance lives up to the title’s promise, the imaginative leap is never that great. That’s to the great credit of writer Rita Kalnejais (Babyteeth), whose coming-of-age fable of love lost and won is as revelatory as it’s familiar. Kalnejais, who’s been quietly making a name for herself as a writer of stage and screen in Britain, debuted this precious gem of a play in London back in 2015. Outgoing Griffin Theatre boss Lee Lewis wisely programmed it this season, and as director carefully and beautifully folds it into Griffin’s odd-shaped space. There will be blood, and all manner of beastily gore. There will even be beastiality (if such a tender thing deserves the description). Yet almost every one of this play’s 100-odd minutes provokes involuntary smiles and a toasting of cockles the heart isn’t prepared for. Why is this absurd thing such a charm offensive? Pic: Brett Boardman Well, it looks ever so pretty. Designer Ella Butler gives us a storybook set of lush, undulating fields that conjures big skies in such a small space. Butler’s costumes are terrific, wisely eschewing Halloween getup for small, recognisable gestures. Lighting from Trent Suidgeest wondrously creates dawn, dusk and everything in between. Compositions from David Bergman, of particular note, are perfectly idiosyncratic. As are his other sound designs. With her cast, Lewis has honed performances that sit in the sweet spot between mortal and magical. It’s funnier because of how straight it’s played, more moving for how real the relationships seem. Bardiya McKinnon (Basti) and Sarah Meacham (Rdeca) are so, frankly, adorable as our species-cross’d Romeo and Julliet as to immediately capture our hearts. A revolution couldn’t ask for more dangerously charismatic leaders. They give us such authentic angst and longing, innocence and resilience, as to erase fur and feathers and clothing and pretense. They make a Hallmark greeting of love impervious seem within the grasp of anyone or anything. There isn’t a false voice among any of the ensemble. Fine playwright and actor Matthew Whittet is oblivious single dad Simon and a rather quixotic mole. There isn’t a false voice among any of the ensemble. Fine playwright and actor Matthew Whittet is oblivious single dad Simon and a rather quixotic mole. Amy Hack imbues her British slapper neighbour with heart, and doubles as Rdeca’s slightly wiser foxxy sister. Guy Simon is protective brother fox, and a particularly obnoxious bulldog. Rebecca Massey delivers pathos in spades as matriarch fox, training her brood to live on their own but unable to let go. I liked this play so much, in fact, that the brutally triumphant ending — I’ll say no more than that — was a particular bummer. It’s true to its mission, perhaps, but felt to me entirely false. Perhaps I’m just less sanguine about the power of love than Kalnejais. First Love is the Revolution is full of giddy hopefulness. It detonates love and the food chain, it overcomes the damage we do to the world and each other, and remakes the universe with kindness and understanding. It’s intoxicating and irresistible and even conceivable for most of the journey. For all its animal instincts, it’s a deeply human piece of theatre. First Love is the Revolution plays Griffin Theatre until December 14. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Jason Whittaker Jason Whittaker is a journalist and Sydney-based contributor to Daily Review. He's been a theatre critic in Brisbane and Melbourne, and has judged plays for the Matilda Awards and the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. He’s edited various publications and is currently a senior producer at the ABC.