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I and You at Hampstead Theatre | Review

Maisie Williams (Caroline) in I and You at Hampstead Theatre. Photo credit Manuel HarlanEven without doing any prior research, the first thing you’ll notice about I and You is that it’s American. The stage is fully set up as the kind of bedroom that you just don’t get very often in the UK – if at all – but is considerably more recognisable from the huge expansive properties you see in the US. Spacious, beautiful coloured floorboards, huge skylight, floor space to spare, and so on.

Of course, this is an American production so happily the first impression is an accurate one. Written by US-based Lauren Gunderson, the San Francisco origin of I and You makes this visual space a believable indication of the environment Caroline (played by Maisie Williams) would be living in.

American scene set, I must admit that I still wasn’t prepared for the accents even though I know I should have been. Both Williams and Zach Wyatt (playing Anthony) affected American accents that whether whispering or shouting were consistent in themselves and consistent with each other.

And there’s quite a bit of shouting, especially in the first few minutes. The scene opens with Williams being startled by the presence of Wyatt in her room bringing her homework. Her reaction to this, understandably, is a loud and fast-paced start to a production that then moves in similar waves from calm to ‘storm’ right through to the end.

A play in a single setting and almost a single act, this does make the piece drag in places but as the main underlying setting is an evening spent doing schoolwork, a few lulls in the entertainment could well be a way to remind the audience of the kind of evening they’re watching. Not a bad thing.

The realistic feel of the piece is further amplified by the fact that while there are some brief moments where the lights dim right down to indicate the passing of time, these are few and far between giving the impression of a unique insight into the lives of the two characters and their interaction. We get an almost real-time development of their characters and interactions that lead up to the ending.

An ending I won’t spoil. Avoid all spoilers. You’ll thank me.

Suffice it to say that when the play begins, Caroline and Anthony don’t know each other at all and are quite at odds but, by the end, they’ve become fond of each other. It’s a relationship build that’s slow moving to begin with, building slowly to something of a rush toward the end. Trust is built, loves and losses discussed, ground-rules set, and empathy built so there is a lot of ground covered but the pace could arguably do with being more even.

At times, the realism of the piece does feel compromised. What the staging and presentation works so hard to create, the characterisation works to take away again and at times the characters feel a little exaggerated despite the excellent work Williams and Wyatt put into delivering to us these two students that are a far cry from anyone that I at least know.

The delivery is strong as well. It’s easy to see that a lot of work has gone into making the characters relatable and accessible even with the underlying cultural differences and this performance alongside the ending (back to the ending. Goosebumps, I tell you) make this a production to put on the ‘must see’ list, for sure.

4 stars

Review by Damien Russell

Hampstead Theatre presents the UK premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, which was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams will make her stage debut as Caroline, and Zach Wyatt will play Anthony. They will be directed by Artistic Director Edward Hall in this play about friendship, adolescent innocence and living life to the full.

Housebound because of illness, Caroline hasn’t been to school in months. Confined to her room, she has only Instagram and Facebook for company. That is until classmate Anthony bursts in – uninvited and armed with waffle fries, a scruffy copy of Walt Whitman’s poetry and a school project due in the next day… Caroline is unimpressed all round. But an unlikely friendship develops, and a seemingly mundane piece of homework starts to reveal the pair’s hopes and dreams – as well as a deep and mysterious bond that connects them even further.

A HAMPSTEAD THEATRE PRODUCTION
I AND YOU
BY LAUREN GUNDERSON
DIRECTED BY EDWARD HALL
Running time: 1 HOUR 25 MINUTES WITH NO INTERVAL
19 OCT – 24 NOV 2018
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

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