Theatre reviews: Generation Z | The Scottish Play | The Mother Load

A new production from Leith-based youth theatre company Strange Town reaches deep into the experience of young people during the pandemic, writes Joyce McMillan

Generation Z PIC: Andy Catlin

Friday night in Dalmeny Street, and something is happening. Is it? Could it be? Yes it is; it’s a live theatre show, with a live audience, and some of it is even taking place in an indoor theatre space. Thanks to 120 dedicated young theatre-makers from across the city, a slice of strategic funding from Creative Scotland, and a single powerful theme in the form of a question – Can Young People Change The World? – the Leith-based young people’s theatre company Strange Town have succeeded in creating their largest-ever show, a multi-media event that – for a couple of nights – brings audiences together in one place, for the shared experience that is the essence of theatre.

The show is called Generation Z: The Future Is Unwritten (****), and it begins in the Out Of The Blue Drill Hall – audience distanced, seated and masked – with a 20-minute sequence of thoughts and sketches performed by six young people into carefully-distanced onstage microphones. Despite the restrictions, the force of their physical presence is tremendous; and the show’s main preoccupations emerge at intense speed, as the young performers – speaking the words of five young Strange Town writers – berate the audience for their failure to act on climate change, and to offer the next generation a more hopeful future.

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From the outset, though, it’s also clear that this is a generation caught in a fiercely individualistic culture, magnified by the need for endless self-presentation on social media. They know that more should have been done at a political level to prevent climate change, but are still often trapped by the myth that it’s all about individual lifestyle; and some even question their own motives, suspecting that they only campaign “to make themselves feel good.”

After the live sequence, the audience divides into two, to listen to an audio show, and watch a video sequence, both written performed by Strange Town groups aged between eight and 18, and featuring – among other material – heartbreaking letters to the planet from younger groups, a chilling audio piece about how easily a text or email exchange can turn nasty, and a brilliantly-edited sequence in which a teenage boy trying to get up and out to school is harangued by a chorus of alter egos each of whom takes a completely different view of the day ahead.

And then finally, it’s outdoors to the Ukrainian Church of Our Lady of Pochaev, next door, to watch, projected on the church wall, a joyous eight minutes of dance and rebellion somehow recorded by 70 young Strange Town members at home, and superbly edited together into an exhilarating film sequence. Since its foundation 15 years ago, Strange Town has always been a remarkable young people’s theatre organisation; and in this show – produced and directed by Steve Small with a full professional team, and available online to watch again this weekend – it reaches deep and memorably into the experience of young people during the pandemic. Can they change the world? They don’t know; but we’d better hope so, for all our sakes.

If you need a light-hearted reminder that this is not the world’s first pandemic, though, then you could do worse than contact enterprising young company Bard In The Yard. The company has recruited around 20 young “bards” across the UK; and they are available, with a small support team, for outdoor backyard performances of two monologues by writer and director Victoria Gartner, based on the idea that Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Macbeth during the London plague epidemic of 1603-04.

Gartner’s The Scottish Play (***), performed in Rutland Square at the weekend courtesy of the Scottish Arts Club, with bard Caroline Mathieson as Will Shakespeare, is a slightly disorganised tote-bag of thoughts about the loss of theatre during a pandemic, about what it means to theatre-makers and theatre-lovers, and about the Scottish play on which Will is trying to work.

It would be a stronger show, methinks, without the effort to suggest that Shakespeare fled to Scotland to work on the play; a closer link to the historic facts, such as they are, would give it a stronger spine. The theatre-starved audience, though, loved the idea behind the show, and the ample opportunities for audience participation it offers – and, of course, the extensive quotes from Shakespeare’s plays, all greeted with loud and longing bursts of applause.

The Lyceum and Pitlochry Sound Stage season continues, meanwhile, with The Mother Load (****), a magnificently written 90 minute audio play by Lynda Radley about the shock of motherhood, and about the systemic failure of our society to support and empathise with women as they undergo it. Cat, Rowan and Mobina are thrown together in traumatic circumstances, when they are locked in a hospital ladies’ room together after an antenatal class, and Cat goes into labour; and with the help of three superb performances from Wendy Seager, Anna Russell-Martin and Nalini Chetty, Radley and director Isobel McArthur make a fine job of using these three very different female characters to steer us through all the depths and tide-races of one of the great human experiences – one that seems doomed to be forever under-documented in our prevailing patriarchal culture, and rediscovered again by every generation of women, with pain, laughter, fear, and a touch of incredulity.

Generation Z: The Future Is Unwritten can be viewed online on 25 and 26 June at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/strange-town/generation-z-online-screening/e-aqrlyo. Bard In The Yard bookings at https://www.bardintheyard.co.uk. The Mother Load at https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/the-mother-load, and https://booking.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com/events

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