Devising Writer: Kim Nobel
Devising Director: Pol Heyvaert
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Theatre in your adolescent years can be pretty limited and for most it may amount to one English class outing to whichever Shakespeare text you’re studying. While there’s plenty of theatre for adults and increasing amounts aimed specifically at the under 8’s, teenage theatre is considerably harder to find. Wild Life FM at the Unicorn Theatre gives nine young performers the chance to talk, play and sing about the issues affecting them, using music to express who they are.
Utilising a radio show format and looking like a junior version of Complicité, the cast combine their musical and performance skills with a complex technological presentation that includes video, animation, live internet searches, voiceover interviews and images of scrolling phone screens. Added to this are joke sections with prank phone-calls, some audience participation and plenty of new songs that together create a quite a theatrically sophisticated and ambitious scope for what is essentially a talent showcase for the young cast.
The show is focused on the question of what young people should be worried about and while one adult interviewee sounding like a politician suggests identity, austerity, disenfranchisement and tuition fees – which raised plenty of giggles from the largely young adult audience – actually the answer is relationships, sex and feeling overwhelmed. Several of the performers use their music to refer to feeling lost, isolated or just generally unhappy which despite the fairly light-hearted tone of the show early on, brings a sense of darkness that will trouble adult viewers.
Equally disconcerting is the focus on sex and, while naturally, this creates lots of schoolgirl giggling from the genuine schoolgirls in the room, it also raises questions about the decisions made by devising writer Kim Noble and devising director Pol Heyvaert. Of course, teenagers are fascinated by sex but that doesn’t mean they understand it or the longer-term impact of the decisions they make.
So, for example, Mikey Arhin-Acquaah delivers a monologue about talking too much and receiving so much information there’s little time to process it. His answer is to produce a gag which he then fits round his mouth, but this isn’t just any gag, it’s specifically a ball-gag that references sex in a way far from intended in his engaging speech, and it’s not clear he even knows what it is. It’s an uncomfortable sight.
Likewise, Maria Olejnik sings a comic song about a disastrous first kiss in a grubby side alley by Poundland which is very funny until the chorus which repeats the phrase “I want to f*uck you”. Certainly, teenagers have plenty of charged emotions, but is it included in the song deliberately to shockingly elucidate the rush of first kisses, or is this something a young girl thinks she is expected to say because of male-driven ideas of sex that permeate films and porn, without necessarily having a real understanding of what it entails or the emotional capacity to decide her own readiness.
Given the not so surreptitious filming on audience mobile phones, the record of this will live on beyond the run of the show, and combined with the brave emotional honesty from all of the cast members, the show makes them vulnerable. How much of this has been considered and discussed with the performers in the show’s planning is unclear, but either now or in the future, it could leave them open to an adult world of judgement and reproach that they should be protected from.
That aside, the performers are a talented and engaging group who clearly have plenty to say about their place in the world. Noah Horne, Tynet Adewole and, Megan Blair have some lovely solo songs, while DJ and singer Justin Campbell has an incredibly deep voice which added plenty of power to the vocals, while Mikey and Oriana Page deliver lots of the sketches and audience interaction with shrewd comic timing.
Teenagers it seems are as worried about the world and their place in it as the rest of us, and Wild Life FM is a showcase for some very talented young musicians and artists. Keep an eye on them because they may well be the theatre-makers of the future.
Runs until: 20 January 2018 | Image: Contributed