Do some of us become, at least to some extent, like our own parents? Even if I recognise some of the vocabulary adopted by today’s teenagers and young adults, I don’t use such terms in everyday conversation. Sure enough, ‘HMU’ and ‘peng’ come up in Stories: Exploring Matters of the Young Mind, and it is of some relief that there are millennial characters in the show that aren’t entirely sure what all of the miscellaneous phrases mean themselves.
The play is really seven short plays, or ‘stories’, rolled into one. For the entirety of the performance, four actors (in the order listed in the show’s programme, Jay Lafayette Coward, Jena Millington, Luke Berridge and Tertia Hastings) remain on stage, and play a large number of characters between them.
The performance centres on the art of storytelling, being ‘retro’ enough to deploy the use of an overhead projector with acetate sheets, an interesting choice in an era when school classrooms are increasingly being equipped with interactive whiteboards and other technological gadgetry. This isn’t, of course, the case across the board, and there are still many schools where there is a lack of such provision, but that is another discussion for another time, simply because it wasn’t something explored during the performance.
This wasn’t billed as a ‘scratch night’ or an experimental evening of new writing, and for good reason: each of the stories is complete in itself whilst fitting in with the others. Simeon Wynne’s ‘Everything’s Not Okay’ bookends the performance, with the question “You’re alright, aren’t you?” asked of various people almost as an antithesis of the phrase ‘it’s okay not to be okay’. It’s as though people are expected to simply pick themselves up from wherever they have proverbially slipped or fallen and just carry on as if nothing has happened. The production seems to suggest, albeit subliminally, that it would be better to deal with problems rather than suppress them.
Three of the seven stories, or chapters, are directed or ‘devised’ by the young company themselves, with directors other than the writers directing the remaining stories: the play as a whole comes together very nicely and is never jarring or disjointed. Part of this is down to a deliberate choice not to have too much in the way of staging, and (as far as I can recall) no costume changes at all, ensuring smooth and seamless scene transitions.
In Aditya Manivannan’s ‘Little Big Problems’, Harry is awaiting someone in particular, a love interest called Lily, to ‘like’ a social media update of his. From the outside looking in, it’s an open and shut case of a lack of perspective, but as he begins to open up, it becomes clear that beneath the surface are some complex feelings that, yes, are very much a part of young love, but are made convincing by a nuanced performance from Berridge. Elsewhere, the accent named by sociologists as Multi-ethnic London English is evident. It’s remarkable quite how much ground is covered, and relatively deeply, in just one hour.
‘Neutral’ by Ciara Wheeler explores various opinions with regard to gender identity, treating each with, well, neutrality, daring to point out that terms such as ‘non-binary’ are themselves labels or categories just as much as ‘male’ and ‘female’. It’s all done in a respectful manner, and it’s interesting to note how different people in the audience will relate to different aspects of the production as it’s broad enough to appeal to most in some way or another. For me, the central character in Alice Gulliver’s ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’ was probably the one I related to the most, not so much for concerns about one’s body image but for the sheer anger and frustration at virtually everything – I was a rather furious youngster to say the least.
The final story, ‘Photographs’ by Cherry Eckel, was a case of saving the best for last: three characters talk about different photographs of older relatives with a mixture of nostalgia, exasperation and a greater understanding (whether positive or negative) of the family member in question. I was particularly drawn to a description of someone’s mother, because, so the audience is informed, the young, carefree woman in the picture wasn’t actually someone’s mum at the time the photograph was taken – marriage and mortgage (and so on) were still some years away.
The pictures themselves remain unseen to the audience, reliant entirely on descriptions in the script, which are detailed enough to engage the imagination without indulging in pedantry or coming across as too laborious in illustration.
This production was something of a learning experience, and Burnt Orange Theatre is quite right in their assertion that these sorts of stories aren’t told often enough.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Everyone has stories
Tales that wash over you in a tide of inspiration, whispered folklore overheard in the corner of a pub, witty observations within a group of friends, the insistent repetitive voice in your head, the texts to your mate at 3am.
Written, directed and performed by young people, ‘Stories’ guides its audience through a collection of tales, an anthology of experience told through the words, voices and actions of teenagers today.
Navigating loyalty, boundaries, conflict and selfhood, ‘Stories’ offers an authentic look at the highs and lows of young minds today, reminding us all of the magic we create when we give people the power to share their experience.
Sunday 15th and Monday 16th December: 19:30 (60 minutes)
Bread and Roses Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor Street, SW4 6DZ