By Rose Griffiths
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Youth Theatre? Inspiring. Attending ‘When They Go Low’ at the Dorfman Theatre certainly solidified this view. The play, written by Natalie Mitchell and performed by CAPA College Wakefield, forms part of the 2018 National Theatre Connections Festival.
Mitchell believes that the play tackles a serious subject: misogyny. The everyday place that feminism occupies is explored through the lens of the schooling environment. When non-consensual images of Sarah are shared, we realise that navigating adolescence amongst the backdrop of the online world brings new challenges. You get the impression here that Mitchell is rather astounded at how different the school environment is today: whereby social media has the potential to follow your every move.
When fellow pupil Louise becomes angered by the response her school shows to the event, she establishes a group that aims to both encourage action, and discuss feminist issues affecting the school and the wider community. From early on in its establishment, the group faces significant hostility from certain male peers. For example, when pupil Scott sets up a website to encourage the ‘rating’ of girls: sexualising them into nothing more than their looks or bodies. At times, I found the virulent misogyny that Scott expressed unconvincing – instead, he gave off the impression that this was just a medium to further power and dominance over his teenage rivalries.
Staging was particularly impressive. The simplistic use of lockers – evident both in the school hallways and as bed frames in the home – worked very well. This minimalism ensured that the central story and its characters would shine through. Sound and lighting also both contributed to the message of the play: particularly notable through the use of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We Should all be Feminists’.
Mitchell began writing the play when it was widely assumed that Hillary Clinton would become the new occupant of the White House. This is a telling reminder that full progress is yet to be achieved. When They Go Low urges the youth of today to confront everyday sexism. This is an impressive performance from a young cast who are able to eloquently tackle a big issue. The message here is clear: the increasing accessibility of online platforms is both positive and negative. In this case, the online world is a place that can educate and inspire positive change, yet also perpetuate misogynistic values. Still – change never occurs without resistance.
Connections took place at the Dorfman Theatre from the 26-30th of June, 2018. It is the largest youth theatre festival in the UK, and celebrates new writing for young people aged 13-19. Ten new plays, by both established and emerging contemporary playwrights, were exclusively commissioned for young people to stage and perform at this year’s Festival.
Photo Credit: National Theatre