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Where Do We Belong?

Lee Mattinson, Laurence Wilson & Company
Young Company
Northern Stage
to

Maybe in a decade’s time many of these fine young actors will be working for Barclays Bank or will have seen their careers swallowed by some corporate behemoth. But for now, for this glorious moment, they present for us this vibrant pulsating ninety minutes production which is simply the best young people’s theatre I have seen in decades of sitting in darkened rooms with a twitching pen.

Young people have already shown the way on climate change, their belief and concern shaming the gutless and shameful politicking of their elders. We live in a dismal time when our nation – or much of it - seems to have become joyless, introspective, sullen, intolerant, dangerous. We look for leadership and see buffoons, charlatans, opportunists and snake doctors.

But hey – try this gem for size. Let me quote from the programme notes of Louie Ingham, associate director of Young Company, the extraordinary youth arm of Northern Stage.

‘This is our slice of social realism, painted with the colours of over 45 young minds and powered by the beating hearts of humans, not machines, wanting to have a connection’.

Stage Two has been transformed for this production. The audience sit along two facing sides. At each end is a three storey scaffolding tower, which is a home to the 22 actors, an occasional lighting effect, a screen for image projections, a base for the musicians and the stage wings.

Actors flood onto the stage, not as a rabble but in meticulously choreographed fashion, unleashing great surges of energy, breathing fire, exuding passion, joy, anger. Twenty two actors/musicians/dancers of all shapes, sizes, colours sweep us away with their large set pieces, then move into small semi-naturalistic scenes, or powerful declamatory verse, all delivered with an astonishing level of professionalism by 16-21 year olds of limited stage experience. At times the production grabs us by the scruff of the neck, elsewhere it almost moves us to tears or leaves us laughing out loud.

This all began in Summer 2018 when Louie Ingham, associate director of Young Company took the UK’s ‘imminent’ departure from the EU as a starting point for the group to examine the UK, Europe and their own place as global citizens. The group of young theatre makers, with the input, guidance and support of writers Lee Mattinson and Laurence Wilson brought many viewpoints to the table as the piece slowly developed..

A variety of different scenarios grapple with racism, sexism, economics, the military, the ecology, cultural identity, social media, politics national and international, gender issues - our place in the world, no less, This may sound like predictable youth theatre territory and in some ways it is, yet welded together with such skill and passion, such a combination of heart and brain and a desire to remain dramatic rather than didactic as to become that rare animal, irresistible theatre.

Plus which the different scenarios are created via real characters as against mouthpieces; domestic scenes, army recruitment interviews; telling phrases resonate – the Brits with their ‘little flag and love of tea’ and in a world increasingly divided by walls, our own building of ‘a wall of fear’. The pure energy of the acting, the live rock music, the burning sense of concern and injustice coupled with a love of life somehow shames most of us into what we have let our society become.

One danger of tackling compartmentalised issues this way is ending up with a hotch-potch of ill-fitting parts that don’t hang together dramatically. Not always avoided here but in the main we move in and out of different scenarios painlessly, set movers operating at the speed of light against a rapid percussive background. And the poetic and lyrical power of the language to see vividly he crises of our current society is matched only by the young actors power to deliver it. The piece fixes in its sights all manner of global injustices - Putin gets a good going over for his gay rights stance, for instance. Yet one particular character merits not a single mention. No mention, except once obliquely, of a certain Donald Trump.

The cast are simply listed alphabetically in the programme, no other identity, with no other clue as to who plays what. Democratic no doubt. But they deserve a roll of honour,so here goes:

Aaron Martin, Abbey Stobbs, Adrian Atkinson, Allison Birt, Areti Nikou, Ben Winthrop, Cooper McDonough, Curtis Appleby, Darci Wilson, Elizabeth Doyle, Emily Corless, Harrison Rowley-Lynn, Jamie Angus, Joe Metcalfe, John Goossens, Liam Bestford, Luke Hammond, Michael Hyslop, Naema Choudbury, Nathaniel Cassidy, Wambui Hardcastle, Ya-Jing Chui. Music and sound design come from Mark Melville and the company with the drum score by Lee McMemeny. Kev Tweedy designs the lighting, Anna Robinson set and costume with Louie Ingham and the company listed as ‘Director and Conceived by’.

Young Company show themselves as a mega-bright, positive creative force in these darkened times. The production, while never naïve, kicks cynicism and defeatism into touch, moving youth theatre to a new level.. Compulsory viewing

Peter Mortimer