The Kids Are Alright

Jen Malarkey and Lee Mattison
Fuel, Encounter, The Place and the Albany
The Albany Theatre

Anna Martine Freeman The Kids Are Alright Credit: Chris Nash

A daytrip to the Natural History Museum turns to tragedy, a family is left bereft when a daughter is lost forever. Two performances take place at the same time, as the show layers the adult narrative of parental grief alongside the fresh optimism of children.

Encounter, the company behind the whacky and brilliant, I Heart Catherine Pistachio, collaborates with Fuel and Jen Malarkey to present theatre, dance and an immersive audio experience in a piece questioning how adults and children listen out for eachother.

The Kids Are Alright is a brutal, absurd and powerful piece about the unimaginable. Children and adults appearing as two separate shows on the same stage with little intertwining narrative and movement.There is a deep investment in text and movement between the grieving parents, while the kids, in comparison, spend most of their time onstage darting about in headphones, presumably being fed instructions.

This means that the kids collective onstage presence is out of synch with the two adult performers. Perhaps this is meant to be part of the dramatic journey, highlighting the disparity and unreachable gulf between adults and children. Yet during the piece’s most tragic moments-and there are many, the presence of the children distractedly clashes up against the odd couple as they dive into a pool of grief.

According to the programme, “ the kids have engaged in a participation project with the company, voicing their thoughts and feelings on the state of the nation to create a Children’s Manifesto for change- an unfiltered audio recording of the changes they want to see in the world.”

A chance for children to create a piece with adults using movement and words to express opinions and feelings is a positively brilliant idea. Yet not much of the material is divulged. There are snippets aired as the audience enter the auditorium from the audio recording collected during a workshop with the kids. This is quickly replaced by central focus on the couple, the husband played by woman and wife played by man, engulfed by angst and emptiness following the loss of 10 year old Sophie.

Unlike Tim Etchells’ That Night Follows Day, where kids share how they feel and think about the way parent talk to them, we don’t really know what their manifesto for change is and never find out. While their thoughts and feelings helped the creators to build a rich text full of brutal horrors it’s hard to directly link back such contributions to the children.

The two performers are awesomely talented and Carl Harrison and Anna Martine Freeman physicalise their roles convincingly from Texan sad boy to castigated husband, who no longer has access to his wife through perpetual berating.

Words pour out imaginatively like the verbal equivalent of a Martin Parr photo; especially the image of the disastrous cruise ship scenario where husband is desperate to win back his wife. There’s also powerful imagery of bedroom as shrine, deeply upsetting and told with such depth of performance, you can almost reach out and touch the objects in their daughter’s bedroom.

Movement, choreographed by Malarkey, from the camp rendition of Witney Huston in the Bodyguard to shaking and trembling in fear and loathing powerfully realises the text. It’s just that those amazing, energetic kids confuse, rather than build the mood of what is essentially dark and menacing theatre.

Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi

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