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The Initiation - Canberra Youth Theatre

The rite of passage is fertile soil for youth theatre, because it explores the twilight world where childhood and adult life blur.

Writer/director Cathy Petocz delves into this realm in The Initiation, an intense and gory exploration of trauma and social pressure.

Goaded by a sinister goth girl, five teenagers slip into the forest on Black Mountain after dark, where they are pursued by a shapeshifting knife that threatens to unleash their violent urges.

The bones of an interesting play are here, with distressing themes and vivid, physical activities for the actors. The sense of location is strong, and the dialogue is juicy.

The play aims to shock and address taboos, with mixed success. Sexual assault is extremely well-handled and felt authentic. References to self-harm were not as convincing, and the play seemed to romanticise intense but toxic relationships.

The play explicitly considers toxic masculinity, but is hazy on what a positive idea of ‘being a man’ could be, and this theme is underdeveloped.

With Petocz directing their own work, storytelling is janky, mood is inconsistent, and some scenes are over-elaborated.

The youth ensemble (Sylvie Burke, Latsamy Carruthers, Zoe Harris, Juniper Potter, Tara Saxena, and Harry Ziarno) as student actors show enormous courage and vulnerability in demanding parts.

Both Gillian Shwab as lighting designer and Nyx Matthews as set and costume designer do excellent work, evoking the liminal Upside Down from Stranger Things with economy and panache.

The Initiation is ambitious but patchy, and further development may unlock the potential of the resonance space this play dips into.

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