Unlikely superheroes emerge and find strength in numbers in this new play for young people
Sydney is under attack. A supervillain, Red Wasp (Alannah David), is poised to take control of the city and the only hero who might be able to stop her – Wonder Fly (Robin Kukk) – is no longer able to fight. In a last-ditch effort to protect his turf, the hero sends costumes and an invitation to inherit his wings to 11 hopefuls. Splitting his various, fly-inspired powers among the group, he leaves the decision-making task in their hands: the first to reach the wings inherits the legacy.
Also: these hopefuls are all around 13 years old.
This is Wonder Fly, playwright Nick Atkins’s new play at the Australian Theatre for Young People. Our window into the action comes in the form of the lovingly testy brother-sister duo Bridie (Ava Mason) and Phillip (Luca Cogin). He, a Wonder Fly super-fan, has dragged his big sister out into the rubbish dump (where else would flies live?) under the mistaken belief he’s one of the chosen. In actual fact, it’s Bridie who has been summoned, but she – so used to being an outcast, discarded by her peers – can’t fathom a reality in which she’s a hero.
Soon, that proves to be true for all of the children who have been chosen: we see kids who feel inferior and anxious, who have trouble advocating for themselves, who hide their insecurities with bravado, and who are painfully, adolescently self-conscious. When making a decision could separate you from the pack, that can be dangerous, and it’s a joy to watch as the Flies-in-waiting hesitantly, and finally triumphantly, begin to trust in their instincts and believe in the validity of their own ideas.
Wonder Fly, directed with big-hearted precision by Sophie Kelly, is a play for and starring young people that examines the power of community, solidarity and teamwork. It uses contemporary mythology – costumed heroes and villains that could be ripped from a comic book (or the latest blockbuster movie) – to illustrate just how meaningful and transformative collective action can be.
On a playful, appropriately comic-book-moody garbage-bag littered set by Antoinette Barbouttis, and lit with appropriate drama by Martin Kinnane, accompanied by a fanfare-led sound design by Kailesh Reitmans, this is a dream playground for a Super Friends origin story.
These kids are from the ‘wrong’ part of Sydney: they all live close to a waste facility; they are all aware that rubbish doesn’t actually disappear – part of a gently environmentalist thread that runs through the script. The potential flies are inhabited with enthusiasm and care by a winningly energetic ensemble: Rafael Partos, Josiah Von-Stolk, Daisy Millpark, Louise Colin, Amelie James-Power, Noah Sturzaker, Massimo Di Napoli, Zoe Trenbath, Ewan Randall, and Jono Riesel.
This is the kind of young people’s play that both entertains and opens up a conversation about problem-solving, confidence-gathering and the potential you can find in many voices speaking up together. It’s a good reminder for them – and for the adults with them – that there truly is strength in numbers.