It’s all good, clean, innocent, engaging, adventurous and flirtatious fun, until it isn’t.
It is 1939 and I speak of a pair of first year boarding school students at Cambridge in England.
These young ladies get to know lads from the university who make it a habit to climb edifices across town at night.
Photos by Harrison Baker
Rosalind (Meg Taranto) is audacious … a free spirit.
Forever eating sweet treats, she is a writer in the making that can readily quote literary heavyweights such as Shakespeare and Bryon.
Lucy (Veronica Pena Negrette) is far more conservative and “sensible”.
She’s on a scholarship and shares a room with the talkative Rosalind.
Rosalind reaches out to a trio of boys from a nearby college that have climbed onto the roof of the women’s dormitory.
Rosalind is attracted to the danger and excitement of their “hobby”.
After securing a pair of trousers from the activist group on campus, she is soon joining the chaps in their pursuits, which takes them into the wee small hours.
Lucy hits it off with the entitled George (Charlie Veitch), while Rosalind is attracted to “good guy” Fred (Eddie Orton).
If the young ladies get caught out past curfew, they face expulsion and, in theory, so do the fellas.
But, although the latter are also breaking the rules and what they do is an open secret, they come from well-to-do families and the powers that be turn a blind eye.
There is a whole heap of enjoyment to be had, but then things take a dark turn.
Climbers is a new Australian play by Elly D’Arcy about the barriers women face in traditional male institutions and the strength it takes to dismantle them.
With its historic contextualisation, the coming-of-age story makes for powerful and poignant theatre.
The mood shifts appreciably as the narrative unfolds.
Romance and revelry give way to angst and anger.
Innocence is lost and a pall hangs over proceedings.
Poetry and possibility are subjugated by an entrenched power structure, firmly centred around wealthy, well positioned white men.
Firstly, hats off to Elly D’Arcy who was inspired to write this extraordinary work by reading about the real exploits of the Night Climbers of Cambridge.
Anarchy, architecture and a divided society provided her with a launching pad, rich for the pickings.
Director Monique Marani has taken the words and deeds inherent in the script and crafted something special.
She gets it and so do we, the audience, and we are outraged, just like the chief protagonist in Rosalind.
To that end, huge plaudits to the endeavours of the 11-strong cast, who bring the tale to life with persuasive enthusiasm and charm.
Meg Taranto conveys strength, intelligence and joie de vivre in Rosalind.
Veronica Pena Negrette imbues Lucy with naiveite, respect and restraint.
Eddie Orton gives the impression of a cat that can’t believe he has lucked out with the cream in realising Fred.
Charlie Veitch is deliberately standoffish and exploitative as George.
Sebastian Li is sensitive and caring as the third of the male climbers, Alex.
Tyallah Bullock has a memorable role as the loud, proud and self-appointed leader of a communist action group, fumbling about … looking to make a difference.
Among the comrades, Tahlia Jameson is a scene stealer as Tommy.
Another to make her mark is Milijana Cancar as 55-year-old Beatrice, whose job it is to keep the girls in check within the boarding school environment.
Beatrice came to Cambridge when she was 18 and never left.
Cancar plays her as levelheaded and sympathetic, but pragmatic.
The set and costuming are also worth noting, the fine work of Savanna Wegman.
Dressed primarily in flouncy, earthy tones, the actors clamber over two whitewashed “rooves” and benches. White sheets flail about like the sails on a clipper ship.
Climbers is most impressive. It is entertaining, engaging and thought provoking.
I was left asking how much have things really changed?
Climbers, which is playing at fortyfivedownstairs until 11th June, 2023, should be seen and savoured.