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Review of Natives By Glenn Waldron at Southwark Playhouse

Boundless at Southwark Playhouse. Fionn Whitehead and Ella Purnell. Photo credit Richard Davenport
Boundless at Southwark Playhouse. Fionn Whitehead and Ella Purnell. Photo credit Richard Davenport

Do you remember your fourteenth birthday? Funnily enough, I do remember mine. It was my last birthday in Essex before heading off to start a new life in Lancashire. For the three teenagers in Glenn Waldron’s new play Natives premiering at the Southwark Playhouse, their fourteenth birthday will be something they never forget.

Never identified by name, three characters celebrate their birthday in completely different ways. For A (Ella Purnell) this means hanging out with her fashionable girlfriends shopping for an outfit for someone else’s birthday party. A’s life is about designer labels, who’s in and who’s out and how many ‘hearts’ every post on social media achieves. She and her friends are shallow, superficial socialites and would ultimately turn on each other faster than rats trapped in a cage if it guaranteed them acknowledgement from someone more popular than themselves.

B (Fionn Whitehead) is a young lad spending his birthday at a funeral in a church and hating every minute of being there. Luckily he has his phone and can sneak a watch at some film while the service goes on around him. The vicar keeps ‘giving him the evil eye’’ but B doesn’t care. He knows what life is about and what is expected of him as a working class, tracksuit wearing lad, and does his best to live up to – or should that be down to – the image society has of someone like him. Finally, we have C (Manish Gandhi) who lives somewhere in the Middle East. A place where there has been war and a regime change which has resulted in a marked change in the life of C and his family – particularly his elder brother. But C isn’t that bothered by the real world. As he wakes on the morning of his birthday, he only has two concerns. First that he has a test at school that day. More importantly, though he is worried that he won’t receive a copy of “Hiro’s Kingdom 5” as a birthday gift. Three very different teenagers take the audience through the day. A day where social media and the all pervasive smartphone will change them completely.

Natives starts with a mythical story told by all three actors of the origin of a word. The deceptively gentle opening explodes into its main narrative with the three actors telling their stories as intertwining monologues. Whilst the stories themselves were really well written, I found B’s and C’s to be the strongest. This could be because I don’t really identify with fourteen-year-old little rich girls having the angst of trying to find a crepe de chine blouse with pussybow detailing – let’s be honest the only word I’m 100% sure about there was ‘blouse’. However, that’s not to say it wasn’t well written, just less engaging for me. But, all told, the three stories are quite fascinating in their similarities. All three of the children, youths, adolescents, teenagers – call them what you will – have been pretty much abandoned by the adults that should be helping and guiding them as they transition from children to fully fledged men and women. But it’s not just the absence of parents, society itself seems to take a back seat and let these youngsters get on with things.

The production is presented on a traverse stage which has the potential to cause sightline issues but Director Rob Drummer keeps his cast moving so that nobody misses a thing – even the sad little smile that B uses. The very light coloured stage is also used really well by Zoe Spurr and Cate Blanchard (lighting and video design, respectively to add emphasis to the words and the twisting tales being portrayed by the cast.

All three actors are excellent but I have to say that Manish Gandhi is absolutely superb and seems to visibly change from an excited child to a person on the brink of manhood over the roughly eighty minutes running time. That isn’t to understate the performances of Ella and Fionn both of whom go through a massive journey as their respective stories unfold.

Natives is a play with twists, turns and shocks running through it. At no point did I actually guess what any of the characters were going to do and I loved the fact that the ending was left open enough so that the audience could decide for themselves in which direction A, B and C would go next. This is not a simple play. The characters are deeper than they appear at first glance and the stories they tell will stay with you long after the play has finished. A fascinating and highly watchable piece of work.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Where are the grown-ups to do something, where are the grown-ups in this story?”
Three countries. Three teenagers. One average, life-altering day.

A young man battles with feelings of love and violence. Another is stuck with the image of someone being pushed from a rooftop. And a girl must choose between her friends and her conscience.

Natives is a rallying cry to a generation of unlikely heroes and celebrates coming of age online in a chaotic world.

Director: Rob Drummer; Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin; Movement: John Ross; Video Design: Cate Blanchard; Lighting: Zoe Spurr; Sound Design: Father
Cast: Ella Purnell (A), Fionn Whitehead (B), and Manish Gandhi (C)

Boundless Theatre presents
Natives
by Glenn Waldron

29 MARCH – 22 APRIL 2017
Start Time 8pm
Matinee Starts 3.30pm
Running Time 90 mins approx
southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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