The State Of Things
Original story by Thomas Attwood and Elliot Clay, book by Thomas Attwood, music and lyrics by Elliot Clay
The AC Group
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
As the creative industries collectively mourn the government's apparent disdain of the arts' value in the school curriculum, The State of Things is a funny, touching and timely look at the double whammy of this short-sighted education policy coupled with ongoing financial austerity.
In this snappily short, lively new musical from AC Group, seven would-be A Level music students in a small northern town don't take the axing of their course lying down.
They are a motley assortment of singers and musicians performing as a band brought together by music GCSE but unified by adversity.
Thomas Attwood's book quickly delivers the essence of each of the characters: Kat is earnest and loyal, Sam is quiet and deep, Will is all mouth and no trousers, Adam is too shy to ask the pretty and assertive Ruth out on a date, whilst Jaz and Beefy lose no opportunity to canoodle.
With Attwood's dialogue, their concerns and the way they express themselves is authentic and endearing, capturing both teenage anxieties and bravado. This is part of the show's charm together with its portrayal of the group's well intentioned, if misguided attempts to save their A Level music course.
Their endeavours are hampered by the need to revise, their rocky relationships and a lack of direction, but their inability to succeed ultimately is not so much due to their conflicting priorities and inexperience as it is to their lack of voice.
The headmistress's hands are tied, their local MP forgets about them. They are learning to speak but no one is listening.
Without labouring it The State of Things says something about the disenfranchisement of young people, whilst also highlighting the correlation between having money and having opportunities—in this case to study music, but the point is a wider one.
There is no question that Attwood and composer lyricist Elliot Clay work extremely well together.
Attwood's writing economically delivers the storyline through a laugh-out-loud funny script with serious traces, creating a structure through which Clay's songs can shine.
The thoughtful duo took the (right) decision not to opt for a comfy, happy ending. The price of that choice however is having to pair a sad resolution of the plot with an uplifting final song and it's not an entirely squared circle but the pair clearly have the talent to fix what is only a small flaw.
Clay and Attwood have assembled an exceptionally young and gifted cast of actor musicians led by Clay as Adam and on the piano. Nell Hardy returns to The AC Group with her viola and plays Kat; Hana Stewart as Ruth, recent graduate James William-Pattison as Will, Rosa Lukacs as Jaz, Toby Lee as Beefy and Peter Cerlienco as Sam play a dazzling number of instruments.
Movement director Roman Berry has the performers criss-cross the stage, as they change instruments mid-song, creating a youthfully energetic visual chaos. As director, Attwood presides over the gentle humour of the piece and the tension found in the dynamics of the relationships and the characters' situation.
The characters' situation is a harsh truth. The State of Things is a work of fiction but it portrays real life for young people across the country. And it sounds an alarm that we ignore at our peril.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti