Last Updated on March 2, 2022
Tears Shed and Laughs Shared in ‘Our Generation’, a Spectacular Verbatim Play:
Tears are shed and laughs shared in this spectacular verbatim piece. Perhaps it’s because the oldest person interviewed for this performance is only a year younger than me, but I was practically a human puddle in the stalls after seeing writer Alecky Blythe’s ‘Our Generation’. Compiled through interviews with twelve teenagers, ‘Our Generation’ is Blythe’s latest verbatim drama, and follows the lives of these young people, their journey through school, GCSEs, girlfriends, boyfriends, sex, university, first jobs, and the pandemic. Directed by Daniel Evans, it is an odyssey of a play, and is executed brilliantly by a company filled with professional theatre debuts.
The literal meaning of verbatim theatre is where the dialogue is taken directly from real conversations and interviews. Every word said on stage during the performance of ‘Our Generation’ was actually spoken by a British teenager or their parent in the last five years. Think of this show as a theatrical version of documentaries like Child Of Our Time, and Up New Generation. Lovers of Blythe’s acclaimed London Road should expect similar levels of tearing up and putting together – with 212 scenes in total, it is a fast-paced drama that feels smoothly assembled, and exquisitely performed.
The action takes place on a thrust stage underneath moving clinical lights, the like of which can be found looming over most school corridors. Set designer Vicki Mortimer mainly lets the script speak for itself, but adds an impressive array of projections that complement the drama. Twelve children, all dressed in their school uniform march onto the stage, all seeming like familiar additions to a weekday commute. Looking closer, one can see the details of personality shining through, an untucked shirt here, a designer jacket there. Here, costume designer Kinnetia Ididore hints to the personalities audiences will get to know over course of the production.
The interviewers clearly knew what they were looking for in the children they chose to follow, as even the quieter teens are filled with huge personalities. They are simultaneously unique and familiar, from Callum (Connor Gormally), the school swot, who also wants to be a wrestler, to Luan (Hélder Fernandes), a cheeky jokester, who nonetheless works tirelessly to be a professional basketball player, and Emily (Poppy Shepard), who, even with her 10A*s at GCSE, doesn’t believe she’s bright enough for Oxbridge. It is a sublime mix of the mundane and the insane, with all the laughter and the sadness of being a teenager.
The entire cast worked brilliantly as an ensemble, coming together to form chorus-based scenes; Act I finished with an acapella version of Fun.’s Some Nights, and in Act II GCSEs were taken to a slow-motion remix of Max Richter’s Recomposed Vivaldi’s Spring. Special mention, however, must go to Poppy Shephard (Emily), Rachelle Diedericks (Ierum), and Joe Dolan (Lucas), for exceptional solo performances. Additionally, Brummie sibling duo, Ali and Ayesha played respectively by Gavi Singh Chera and Anoushka Chakravarti, were outstanding. Their love-hate relationship provided many of the laughs, alongside pulling of heartstrings.
The cast of twelve teens was also joined by three adults, Debbie Chazen, Hasan Dixon, and Stephanie Street, who swapped between all of the parental roles. With the occasional under-rehearsed accent aside, these three held their own swapping between so many different parts. Their performances complemented the teenage characters, allowing them to bounce off an adults’ presence, but also to show the contrast between teenagers by themselves and with parents.
More than in any other verbatim piece I’ve seen, the audience in ‘Our Generation’ can almost sense when the children begin to feel comfortable around the interviewer, and start to truly open up. For more than one teen, the whipping out of a cigarette, followed by a careful sheepish glance to the interviewer, proved the trust between them. Sometimes it was more personal, like opening up about seeing a therapist, or talking about the way they feel about their body. Especially in Act II, it was these moments that really made the piece feel real, and built a story that developed, in one sense by the children growing up, but in another with them growing to trust a grown-up who they have grown to trust.
Act III, which focused on the teenagers during the pandemic, felt a little less tight than the rest of the performance. Perhaps it needed more than forty minutes to properly develop, or maybe because the effect of the pandemic on young people is still open-ended and uncertain. However, discussion of the Pandemic’s impact on young people is vitally important and has not been sufficiently addressed in the media.
‘Our Generation’ is brave and honest without being didactic, something that not many plays about young people can boast. With exceptional performances as well as brilliant company chemistry, it is a show that is uplifting and enlightening in all the right ways.
Our Generation at The Dorfman Theatre – running till the 9th April 2022.
London SE1 9PX
Phone: 020 3989 5455