Theatre in Wales

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A Teenage Life, Actors, Director, & Playwright of Wales in London Theatre

Verbatim Theatre

Our Generation , National Theatre London , April 14, 2022
Verbatim Theatre by Our Generation From the clock-tower, at the top of Aberystwyth's Great Darkgate Street, it is a twenty-three minute walk eastward to any of the town boundaries. It is not a large place spatially but it bursts with a big bundle of performance talent.

Three actors in London's West End in 2022 were once schoolchildren-performers in Aberystwyth. Gwyneth Keyworth plays Scout in Aaron Sorkin's re-making of "To Kill a Mocking-bird." A couple of streets away Taron Egerton is in another revival, of Mike Bartlett's "Cock." They were once, a few years back, singing and performing together in an Arts Centre youth company musical. Sam Ebenezer, first reviewed on this site as an acrobatic Aladdin, is in the theatre next door.

A few hundred yards south, at the National Theatre, Emlyn Williams gets a revival. At the Dorfman Theatre Daniel Evans is director of an epic piece of verbatim theatre. He was chosen, as reported by Claire Armitstead in the Guardian 8th February, because of his musicality.

"Ive been in some musicals, and Ive directed some musicals, he says. That is modestly stated as he has Olivier awards to his name for roles in "Merrily We Roll Along" and "Sunday in the Park With George.".

As for the connection between musical theatre and verbatim theatre Im Welsh, says Evans,. I think the Welsh bit is important. People always bang on about the tune of our accent, so I grew up with an awareness of how I sound, and this has taken it to a whole new level...Its just how language is relished unconsciously by people, he says. Its very, very sensuous, I think, without them even knowing that theyre being sensuous.

"Our Generation" runs for three hours and forty minutes with a couple of ten minute intervals. Evans' direction gives it the urge and momentum of the best of musicals and intersperses it with movement and music. The company of fifteen are just that, a company, so that to pick out any one is to unpick the point of the production, which has been in gestation since 2015.

The words for Alecky Blythe's production have been captured by a team known as "collectors." They are Izzy Dougill, Dan Murphy, Ruth Tebby, Olivia Wilkes and Leah Gaffey. Leah Gaffey has been reviewed on this site at the Sherman, Theatr Genedlaethol and Cwmni Franwen. She can be seen on television every weekend as an exuberant "Stwnsh Sadwrn" presenter. Covid-19 plagued "Our Generation" in its early days and Leah Gaffey stepped in as a performer.

Alecky Blythe's theatre has evolved. Her first plays were performed with the actors wearing ear-phones. They repeated speech that was being piped directly into their ears. When she came to the National Theatre Nicholas Hytner did not want actors with earphones. Mid-way in rehearsals of "London Road" they were abandoned. The production was a landmark, Michael Billington confirming "this miraculously innovative show finds a new way of representing reality.

Her next play "Little Revolution" of 2014 did not work well. "Our Generation" does and for a reason. Its players are twelve young people over the course of five or six years. They were born in 2001 and 2002 and their oral testimony begins at the age of fourteen. The final script was culled from six hundred hours of testimony. As in "Our Country", below 19th March 2017, the National Theatre has taken pains to be national. The children live in Wolverhampton, Northamptonshire, Anglesey, Glasgow, Belfast. Their names have been changed although "Mia" in north Wales might well have been "Nia."

The editing by a factor of two hundred gives the spoken words an urge of vitality. Im an only child, its just me, my mum, my cat, my dog and my deceased chicken. explains one girl. Another frets: I have a really itchy roof of my mouth. I think I have hay fever. Ive gotta be at 100% health so I can watch Love Island. Yet another bubbles: I wanna go hajj so bad. And Australia. I wanna get a tan.

Ali and Ayesha are in Wolverhampton. They are both devout and mad about the Kardashians. Ierum hovers around the groupings in her school. Social media tells her, and she tells us, that she is not pretty enough. It is hard to watch. Taylor aspires to be a paralympian. Lucas wants to be head boy. At his school he will be the first in 500 years where two brothers have both been head boy. It is that kind of school. Results day is a climax of tension, dismay and acceptance. The BTEC route is second-class. Emily gets her nine A-stars and a B. Naturally the B is appealed and revised upward. It is that kind of school.

As the teenage years move on the twelve move into sexuality and drugs. The drugs that the law does not like are universally consumed. Fifteen year-olds, says Robyn in Glasgow, start off with diazepam. She discovers that she is happily bisexual. An illness hits. Callum in Belfast contracts an appalling skin condition, tempered finally with cyclosporins.

The third act takes place in the time of Covid-19. It is a calamity for the young. Education is impossible in a small house for six. Structure is thrown out, sleep disturbance hits, irrespective of background and privilege. By the summer one of the twelve has done with the restrictions. He sees a disease that hits the old. Do you think that old people care about us when they vote? he asks.

Small things rank large in young lives. They notice when the price of pizza at school goes up twenty pence. Politics are light. The fourteen-year-olds do not get the referendum. What is the point, they ask, of not travelling and working in the countries next door?

Three actors play a variety of adult roles, parents, teachers, coaches, priests. The immigrant Kosovan is played for truth, the upper-middle class for satire. It is an error; these are the people who run everything. The real politics is the truth of sociology. Children who know the constancy of love go on to make lives of constancy. Disadvantage is passed on. Even a job as a fast-food server is out of reach without a GCSE.

There are only seven plots in fiction. All story rests on an archetype. That of "Our Generation" is the journey. The destinies of twelve children moving to first adulthood have an intrinsic interest, particularly when they are portrayed with such zestfulness.

Accidentally, or not, the voices speak for stereotypes of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's Callum has high academic achievement and an admiration for Mrs Thatcher. England's south provides the public schoolboys. The Midlands are material for comedy. Scotland has Europe's highest rate of drug deaths; so too that is reflected here.

Nicola Sturgeon gets a mention of support. The Wales here has not a trace of nationalism to it. Mia, maybe Nia, is likely a Welsh-speaker but not a word does she speak. Of the twelve she is the least educated. Her father is in prison. She drifts into a relationship with a Gavin found online. She is subject to relationship abuse, on anti-depressants before she is out of her teens. Her end of tale has a small uplift to it. She lives in a caravan in Nefyn but a job is on offer from England.

There were a lot of young people, a clear majority, in the audience. The Gogledd they got to be shown is a long way from the bounce and optimism in Ynys Alys.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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