Arts Review

Big Yikes!

Big Yikes!

A Playlab Theatre Production

The Underground Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse

Thursday March 21st, 2024


- It is of some comfort that in the almost quarter of a century since I completed high school that, irregardless of the enormous technological changes, political catastrophes and social upheavals, some things never change. I still clearly remember the uncomfortable, mixed feelings of awkwardness and anxiety that accompanied that pivotal moment: the desire to find your own feet, despite being unaware of where, or how to stand and the urge to make your mark, without knowing where to place it. 


Adding insult to the already substantial injury inflicted by these deeply personal crises is the pressure applied by others. Be it parents, peers, teachers, or society as a whole, who all seem to imply that, as an “educated” individual, you now have all the answers required to conduct yourself as an adult, read: a wholly productive and contributing member of society. Playlab Theatre’s 2023 commissioned Playwright in Residence, Madeleine Border addresses these matters -and so much more- in the quirky, at times cringey and oh-so-relatable Big Yikes!, soon to end its month-long run at Brisbane Powerhouse’s Underground Theatre.


Big Yikes! features a small cast, led by Juliette Milne as the show’s protagonist Lorrie, or Loxie, as she prefers to be called; both as an attempt to sound cooler and to avoid comparisons with a large truck. Loxie is navigating the challenges many youths face in their late teens/early adulthood, finishing school, awaiting university offers, commencing employment and moving out of home; all the while navigating the complex interpersonal relationships and social constructs that confront us all in our early stages of independence. Milne is the only actor who maintains a single character for the duration of the play, with supporting actors Billy Fogarty, Christopher Paton and Tenielle Plunket each performing multiple roles as the various individuals that orbit Loxie’s social sphere.


What transpires over the play’s ninety-minute runtime is played out in a series of small vignettes that interchange, mostly, between Loxie’s café workplace and her share-house bedroom; with some occasional variation, including a pivotal picnic scene on New Year’s Eve. We see Loxie juggle the challenges of learning a new job and balancing her meagre budget to include both rent and play, all whilst making herself emotionally available for friends and family and not always succeeding. Add to this mix the impending arrival of university offers and a confused attraction to a co-worker, it is no surprise that Loxie is so anxious.


Anxiety is a central theme in Big Yikes! and whilst Loxie’s struggles to keep her head above water are used as a lynchpin for many of the play’s funnier moments, of which there are many, the matter itself is never treated as a joke or with insensitivity. Much of the show’s humour stems from the relatability of its characters and their situations. For the younger members of the audience this provides a chance to laugh at themselves and the parallels between their current lives, whilst those a few -or many- years older can amuse themselves with the knowledge that, with age and experience, these matters eventually become easier.


An audience’s ability to relate is key to the success of a play like Big Yikes! and Milne and her cast of co-conspirators tackle this responsibility by mixing levity and empathy into their performances. Milne is excellent as Loxie, imparting a mix of wide-eyed naivety alongside misguided optimism, fused with a tendency to overthink and over analyse and, in turn, creating a well-rounded picture of an individual who is often at odds with herself. 


It feels remiss to pass off the performances of Fogarty (Loxie’s crush and fellow barista Charlie), Paton (Loxie’s best friend D’Arcy and laid back café employee Soppy) and Plunkett (café manager Sophie and housemate Taylor) as mere supporting roles; it is precisely their characters who add further depth and diversity through their portrayal of multiple personalities. Another review made mention of the ensemble character’s obvious gender fluidity, interpreting it as a deliberate response to the current generation’s questioning of traditional gender roles. While it is true that the character’s names and personalities are distinctly androgynous, whether this obfuscation of gender is a deliberate social statement or a device used by the writer and actors to make the characters universally relatable is a question only Border and the show’s cast can answer.


Running for ninety minutes may at first seem daunting for a play that seeks to address primarily teenage ideals. For the most part, however, it never lags or loses its heart, though some segments could have been trimmed without sacrificing the narrative; notably, whether it was necessary to portray every café event night when portraying one would have sufficed. This aside, there is little to criticize about Big Yikes!, a play full of warmth and insight that has the gravitas to tackle real and pertinent issues facing our current generation of school leavers, without sacrificing its sense of humour and humanity.


Review: Nick Stephan

Imagery: Stephen Henry


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