Chatroom / Citizenship
Enda Walsh / Mark Ravenhill
National Theatre Production
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, and touring
Seeing the words 'teenage angst' written about any piece of theatre is likely to put you off from the start: after all, once you've escaped from it yourself, you hardly want to go back there. However Ravenhill and Walsh show us the pressures inflicted on today's cyber-connected youth, and question any easy dismissal of burgeoning identities.
The National Theatre present two one act plays of peer pressure, sexuality, and bittersweet laughs at the dangerous realities of teenagers' lives. This is an evening that will leave you vividly aware of the acute demands laid on young people to make choices with far reaching consequences.
Walsh begins with Chatroom where five teenagers, disconnected but searching, find an internet chatroom and a vicious manipulation of a struggling boy ensues. Jim (Steven Webb) is alone and vulnerable, and William (George Rainsford) is clever, disillusioned and looking for a cause. Encouraged by Eva (Jade Williams), the pressure on Jim to kill himself becomes dangerously unbearable.
Walsh's writing is powerfully effective and with no eye contact between the characters it is words that can kill. At all of 15 years old William rubbishes any institutions that offer young people something to believe in, Jim craves contact and connection, while Laura (Simone James), in fear of any commitment to giving advice, refuses to get involved. This is a fantastic piece of theatre, and while the search for a purpose is universal to all ages, what really comes home is the fact that this incredibly powerful impulse can become deadly.
The second half of the evening brings Ravenhill's Citizenship and again the pressure to choose is intolerable. Combining humour, fast paced action, and ravenous use of language, Tom (Ashley Rolfe) is 16 and dreaming of kissing. His dreams take him to the point of connection but he is left unsatisfied - he doesn't know whether he is kissing a man or a woman. In the school yard he is subject to a barrage of hyperbolic questioning and sexual innuendoes as to his relationship with his female friend Amy (Michelle Tate).
Tom revolves, immature, in a world of bombardment as to his sexual identity, the girls have to learn 'life skills' with a plastic baby and his teacher, Mr De Clerk (Richard Dempsey), comes through the wall to advise; "But don't tell the Head! We're not supposed to have Special Powers!!"
As with Chatroom, Citizenship also incorporates the use of cyper-space to realise the identities of the characters: Gary lives out his dreams on myspace and Tom explores his sexuality through a gay chatrooms. If the internet is where young people are learning the 'life skills' to play out their evolving understanding, what role does theatre have in their lives?
Jonathan Fensom's set of plastic chairs gives each actor a 'hot seat' to speak from, and cleverly opens up to an anonymous school hall way in the second half. While all the actors embody their roles, two in particular stand out, especially for their transition from one piece to the next: Steven Webb and Akemnji Ndifronyen who both give excellent performances.
Chatroom/Citizenship is a powerfully evocative evening and will leave any audience member thinking, whatever age. Don't be put off by descriptions of 'teenage angst' and take any young person you know to see it - every minute of this production will be well worth many an hour in an internet chatroom.
David Chadderton reviewed this production at The Lowry, Salford
Reviewer: Cecily Boys