By Ben Ayaydin
The National Theatre’s Connections festival 2018 kicks off with Alice Birch’s [BLANK], a National Theatre/Clean Break co-commission directed by Caroline Griffiths and featuring the students from City and Islington College.
[BLANK] centres on the lives and perspectives of young people, focusing how they cope with the absence of their mothers and how this has an impact on their lives. Birch masterfully incorporates loneliness and isolation within young people, whether they are in care homes or living on their own.
The play’s structure is unconventional in the sense that it is fragmented and non-linear; however this is where the narrative comes into its element due to the audience participation in trying to piece the scenes together like a jigsaw. The scenes are not necessarily connected to one another but share an overarching theme of abandonment.
The actors from City and Islington College were fantastic, with their performances being immersive and distinctive, breathing life into the characters. Also the actors played off each other really well adding to the realism and immersion. You could tell there was an excellent chemistry amongst the group.
The stage was minimalist and effective with emphasis brought upon the characters interactions with one another. The lighting was another great aspect of the play. Often the sole source of light came from a fluorescent lamp which focused all the light directly on the actors, causing a backdrop of darkness. This greatly added to the sense of isolation and was well employed by Neill Brinkworth who was in charge of Lighting and Set Design.
The use of physical theatre, in the form of dance, brought a different yet compelling aspect to the play, demonstrating that you can grasp a character’s feelings from more than just spoken words. The dancing was raw and powerful, adding another layer to [BLANK]‘s emotional storytelling. This was further complemented with elements of song, giving the audience an additional insight into the character’s emotional state and feelings.
The only criticism I have of the play is that of the pacing, with some scenes dragging on a little. However, this was a sacrifice that was needed in order to deliver a compelling narrative and did not detract too much from the audience’s enjoyment.
[BLANK] brought about a range of emotions: from scenes with elements of humour to a particularly chilling ending which gave me goosebumps. The play is a refreshing take on themes such as abandonment and isolation of young people, which is not often told on stage. I particularly enjoyed the performance from such a young talented company and it is great to see these actors get the chance to showcase their work on a stage, such as the National’s Dorfman theatre. It was interesting coming out of the play and listening to everyone’s different interpretations. The beauty of the performance was that the audience came away with something different depending on their own individual experiences of life.
The National Theatre’s Connections festival is a nationwide youth theatre festival and is the largest in the UK. Ten UK schools and youth theatre companies will stage ten new plays, taking place in the Dorfman Theatre from 26-30 June 2018.
Photo Credit: National Theatre