Michael and his older brother Dom live in Sydney's Western Suburbs, in the ever-changing Parramatta area. They're young and in their prime – Church Street is their open road, and cars drive their passion. Tragedy strikes Michael and his family, and he learns to grow up and reach out to the family and friends around him, and to lean on the environment he lives in.
Sounds like a pretty standard coming-of-age story, yes? Well, yeah, in a way. It's even been described as a play about "cars and boys and having to grow up too soon". But on another important level, this one was written by local Parramatta author Felicity Castagna, and based on her triumphant novel of the same name.
With the assistance of The National Theatre of Parramatta, this story is being told specifically from Parramatta. It helps validate stories from Western Sydney as stories that are part of Sydney as a whole, and, as an unapologetic Westie myself, it validates my own coming-of-age story in the area, and those of my friends, all of whom, like Michael and Dom, spent arvos loitering the Westfields and waiting for lifts home from Maccas on Victoria Road. Much more than those trite memories, it cements the notion that the kids of Western Sydney are just as complicated and nuanced as their peers in other parts of the city. That these kids are more than just news headlines, and "down-and-out" stories concocted by TV producers who, for the most part, only visit the western suburbs when their shooting schedules tell them to.
Despite its Parramatta-centric location, The Incredible Here and Now is a story for all of Sydney.
The cast, by and large, were pretty likeable. Bardiya McKinnon as Michael, the sensitive, intelligent nice guy protagonist, was a good fit for the role. Through his portrayal of Michael, we're instantly taken back to adolescence, or, for those in the audience who were adolescents, we see Michael's life as authentic. His brother Dom, whom he hero-worships like many younger siblings do of their older brother, is played by Alex Cubis, who channels an all-knowing brotherly persona. Stage and set design by Isabel Hudson allow Dom to be present in all facets of his family's life – an effect that worked well. The cast overall worked well on stage together, and one in particular, Libby Asciak, got a round of applause in her dual role as both Monique and Monique' younger brother. Ryan Peters also got a few laughs as Michael's best friend Shadi.
There were a few key relationships in this story that round out Michael's life, and I found that Michael's relationship with his friends and girlfriend drew me in more than his relationship with his brother. One scene in particular of the four friends eating fries and sitting on the hood of their car brought me back to carefree high school days.
Bardiya McKinnon as Michael and Alex Cubis as Dom
I'm betting that scene was memorable to me because of its relatability, which The Incredible Here and Now really is, in a way not many other plays have been to me in the past. Admittedly, many performances have moved me in different ways, but the beauty of this play was that it finally, finally understood where I'd come from. Michael and I are not the same person, but his grief and growing pains were played out in areas of Sydney I've also grown up in. Feeling completely self-conscious on the grassy knoll at Parramatta Pools? Yep, been there. Discussing the issues of the day with friends over an order of charcoal chicken with garlic sauce? Absolutely been there. There's even a scene that mentions Wigram Street in Harris Park, so personal to me because it's where I once lived. I don't know if Felicity Castagna knows this, but through Michael and his friends, up on stage, my past in Parramatta has been validated.
The beauty of this production is that its essential story of love, loss and growing up are so universal, but its set in a unique place. Michael's story could have been set anywhere in the world, or anywhere in Sydney, but Castagna chose Parramatta as Michael's stomping ground. Michael and the people in his life develop and change, just like their surroundings, but they all come back to the same place.
For a story that is more or less set in a time of grieving, it's surprisingly hopeful. Michael muddles through as best as he can, but that's the kicker – he muddles through as best as he can. The cast play this well, through humour and wit, we see a small fraction of the world, Michael's world, fight their personal battles, whether they be the arrival of a prodigal son or a chance to kick a goal. The pace of the play flowed more or less pretty well, which helped the story float above what could have sunk down to melodrama, but didn't.
The Incredible Here and Now uses the western suburbs of Sydney as its backdrop against the lives of teens (and adults, too) who find that to get through life, they need to morph into something else. So many people seeing this play and other works by the National Theatre of Parramatta have the western suburbs as their backdrop, some moving to other areas of Sydney, or other parts of the world. But like the characters, we all acknowledge where we're from, because that's the ground we've grown from.