Bright. Young. Things.
Nick Hern Books
Lizzie Nunnery's Heavy Weather is joined by this play from Georgia Christou's, created through workshops in 2019 and 2020 with Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, as the latest pair of releases in the Nick Hern Books Platform series, established in association with Tonic Theatre with the intention to commission new, large-cast plays for youth theatre groups with mainly female casts.
Christou states firmly in her introduction, "I hate reality TV", but then goes on to admit that she still watches it, then moans about how terrible it is. For this play, she has focused on what she calls "the competition show", which is really just an old-fashioned quiz programme for young contestants but with the addition of some of those 'reality' moments where those taking part have to reflect on their experiences to camera (even Mastermind does this now, rather pointlessly) and show some kind of personality traits that will bump up the TV ratings and subsequent YouTube 'views'.
It's written as an ensemble piece with lots of quick scene changes, a basic, adaptable set, casting that is flexible in terms of numbers and sex and some direct audience address, a style often seen in youth group scripts going back to the 1960s but one that can still work well. There's no pretence of naturalism as most of the characters are caricatures, each representing a character type or attitude, but in some ways this is the point as 'casting' is an important element of these types of TV shows.
Like Nunnery, Christou has a more 'real' character to reflect and react to the extremes going on around her, in this case Rochelle, who ends up on the programme by accident through a very contrived set of coincidences. When she has to go with her dad to work—he seems to be a cleaner at the TV studio—and one of the 'child geniuses' drops out from the programme, one of the producers overhears her discussing the chemical constituents of her dad's cleaning fluid.
The contestants are picked to fit certain 'types' required by the producers and their lines to camera are all scripted; if one of them starts to give a genuine answer to a question about themselves, they are swiftly referred to the words on the autocue. When they start to get a bit too cosy together backstage, the producers play cruel tricks on them to set them on edge or against one another.
This type of programme is an easy target to send up and the script doesn't say anything particularly original or enlightening about them, but for young people—who will no doubt see a lot of these shows—it is probably good to emphasise how they manipulate both the contestants and the viewers for entertainment to help them to watch with a more critical eye.
There is some fun to be had in portraying some of these quirky characters and some amusing situations, plus the flexible staging leaves a lot of staging decisions to the company, which makes this an interesting challenge for any youth group who wishes to mount this play.
Reviewer: David Chadderton