Burn / Chatroom / Citizenship
Deborah Gearing / Enda Walsh / Mark Ravenhill
This trio of 50 minute plays first saw the light of day as part of NT Connections. This is a project that allows teenagers to get involved in work at the National, led by top playwrights.
This brief run allows theatregoers to see three entertaining plays about the problems faced by today's teenagers and as a welcome by-product, presents a showcase of some of our finest, young acting talent, under the confident direction of Anna Mackmin.
The programming is a little odd with the plays presented in pairs at most performances. However, those wishing to see all three can do so on Saturday nights throughout the run.
On the opening night, the first play was Chatroom, originally reviewed on BTG in a lively all-girl production on the Edinburgh Fringe last year.
Enda Walsh takes the simple concept of the teen chatroom to a scary but all too credible conclusion. Andrew Garfield plays 15 year old Jim, a boy whose father literally walked away from him at the zoo when he was six.
Lonely, friendless Jim is close to suicide and looks for help in cyberspace. On a Samaritan-style suicide help site, Naomi Bentley's Laura is willing listen but not advise. Any involvement is against the rules but also threatens her own equilibrium, following a failed suicide attempt.
Far more seductive is Chiswick's Bloody Opinionated. This is a site run for Jim's peer group where, for the most part, immature West London teens pretentiously deconstruct Roald Dahl and Harry Potter; or giggle over Britney.
There he is adopted by William and Eva (Matt Smith and Matti Houghton) a malign pair who egg him on towards the suicide that he hasn't the mental strength to resist without support.
Under Anna Mackmin's sure direction, the play builds to a tense finale in McDonalds, as the audience waits to see whether Laura will break her golden rule to become a Deus ex (top of the range Pentium) Machina; or Jim take the final irretrievable step.
This play has great comedy and surprising depth. It features strong ensemble acting with Andrew Garfield outstanding as Jim.
With its almost Greek chorus commenting on proceedings from above, Burn has something of a mythic quality as it unfolds the tale of the backward Birdman, Andrew Garfield on top form once again.
This teen is a skateboarding outcast and butt of all jokes. Aided by Miss Mackmin the writer soon injects a sense that tragedy is inevitable.
The local children collectively build up the story from their fractured viewpoints. Early on, the audience learns that Birdman is to be exiled from yet another foster home. Before he goes, he seeks a little comfort and friendship.
After the ill-used Rachel (an hilarious cameo from Naomi Bentley) fights with her two-timing bloke Col, Birdman finally sees a chance for a little glory with Andrea Riseborough's glum Linda, apparently one of life's victims. The curtain comes down as the pair head at high speed into a sunset that might symbolise the end of adolescence and the start of a new life; or just the end of everything.
Burn has less humour than its partners but thanks to a clever human soundscape created by cast members and good acting from a cast a baker's dozen strong, offers some telling, if sometimes rather contrived, observations on life today.
The final play is a comedy that sees another mid-teen, Sid Mitchell's Tom, trying to make up his mind about his own sexuality. For the duration of the play, he vacillates between tough Amy, a self-mutilator played by Claire-Louise Cordwell, and a selection of men. This being Ravenhill, his choice will not be a shock.
Mark Ravenhill, in far more accessible mood than The Cut, makes the most of the comic possibilities, but with sensitivity. He introduces us to Gay Gary, a permanently high rasta, confusingly but impressively played by the white Matt Smith and belying his name as he proves to be straight. By way of contrast, Tom's shy but incredibly stressed teacher (Richard Dempsey) is not but cannot let on to a pupil.
Teenagers will love this play and in particular the life skills learned by inarticulate, gum-chewing teenaged girls who are left holding the (plastic) baby for a week at a time. Their different reactions are both telling and extremely funny.
For Amy, the life skills soon become reality but perhaps pleasingly, this is the making of her as she finally finds an occupation that takes her mind off her own woes. This may be a little convenient dramatically but at the end of such a hard-hitting evening, that is no bad thing.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher