Nick Hern Books
Nick Hern Books has been collaborating with Tonic Theatre for the last five years on its Platform series to commission new plays that try to solve the age-old problem in young people's theatre: that most youth theatre groups are mainly female, but most large-cast plays suitable for them to perform aren't.
The latest releases, currently only available as ebooks due to the lockdown but hopefully in print later this year, include this wonderful little piece from multi-talented writer-performer Lizzie Nunnery, created in collaboration with the Young Company at Chester Storyhouse. It deals with an issue that affects us all profoundly but on which younger people have been particularly vocal, climate change, but is certainly not uncritical of some of the campaigners and their motives.
Central to the story is 16-year-old Mona, described as "an outsider, a visionary" in the character list but by her contemporaries as "like 'scary genius' clever", adding that "she's got mental problems. Like a condition." No condition is named, but she is having panic attacks at school and is obsessed with the climate change crisis to the extent that she is unable to focus her mind on anything else, even eating and drinking.
Mona is looked after by her older sister, Elin, since her mother left them three years ago, but when Mona sees her mother on a photo of a climate change protest, she sets off to find her, and the story changes to a quest narrative, encountering a series of characters and tests along the way, beginning, on the bus, with an 18-year-old social media 'influencer', there to take selfies to show her followers that she is actually attending a protest for something she writes about and to satisfy her sponsors.
At the protest, she encounters the Guru, who leads the crowd in meditation but bans all talk of bad things, even related to the thing they are protesting about, and a pair of rather fragile volunteer councillors who treat their charges with sweets and hugs and think 'break-out zone' is a bit too violent a name for their treatment area. Finally, she catches up with her mother, who, it seems, is there mainly to feel part of something and to escape the responsibilities of real life, including motherhood.
Amongst all of these people there to be seen, to escape or to be thought virtuous by their friends and followers is Mona, there purely because she wants to force the people in power to save the world from destruction through climate change. She doesn't understand the need to be photographed for Instagram or quoted for news reports, or why some people are shocked by the frankness of her language in describing just how bad the situation they are there to protest is. Her simplicity of approach allows us to see all of the other familiar and well-observed characters reflected in her eyes.
This is a lovely piece of theatre with great characters for young actors to get their teeth into, familiar issues and situations and lots of humour that still treats the issues very seriously. Mona in particular would be a very challenging role for a talented teenage actress. Other than Mona and Elin, there are six named roles that appear just in single scenes and for the rest of the time are part of the ensemble, who add narration, gossip and general atmosphere to many of the scenes.
Heavy Weather is available now to buy and to perform. There are songs included in the script written by Nunnery and transcribed by her regular collaborator, Vidar Norheim. Nick Hern will send perusal copies of scripts on loan and offer discounts on cast sets of scripts. This is well worth a look for any teenage youth theatre group, and one I wouldn't mind directing myself.
Reviewer: David Chadderton