Writer: Natalie Mitchell
Director: Grace Gummer
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The Bunker’s new show opens in the same week as the theatre announces its closure in 2020 as the area around London Bridge continues to be redeveloped. For over three years, The Bunker has been a keen supporter of new writing by young playwrights from underrepresented backgrounds, but as it searches for a new home the theatre is still committed to bring in young audiences with shows such as Germ Free Adolescent.
Natalie Mitchell’s play is about a teenager with OCD. Ashley collects leaflets on STIs and has memorised the official statistics on how many people in Britain have chlamydia. Her knowledge is so valuable that she opens a ‘surgery’ in school offering advice and information on various sexual diseases. With so many facts at her fingertips Ashley’s friends presume that she is experienced when it comes to sex.
But Ashley has had no practical experience and so when her boyfriend asks her over to consummate their relationship she is understandably nervous. She needn’t worry, because despite his laddish bravado, Ollie is a virgin too. After a dinner of chicken kievs they both approach the sofa with trepidation.
As much as OCD, Germ Free Adolescent is about consent, and this play, which has been developed with the help of young people and youth services, would speak to many teenagers worried about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. As a play touring secondary schools, Germ Free Adolescent would be very useful, but perhaps the audience at the Bunker is a little too old for Mitchell’s play to really hit home.
As Ashley and Ollie, Francesca Henry and Jake Richards acquit themselves well, easily garnering the audience’s sympathy, though on the press night a good deal of the audience members treated everything said by Ollie as comedy, rather undercutting the darker sides of his masculinity. His masculine privilege is too quickly forgiven both by Ashley and the audience.
At only 50 minutes, the play doesn’t hang around, but sometimes the action sags, and when the unlikely climax comes it seems too simple and neat, trying to reach a happy end where OCD and consent are both overcome. There’s great potential here, but this still feels like a work-in-progress.
With Lizzy Leech’s simple set and with Nicola Chang’s dramatic sound design, Germ Free Adolescent certainly looks and sounds good and so it’s a shame that the story doesn’t feel finished. However, ultimately this is a play for teenagers, and it would be interesting to discover what they take away from it.
Runs until 9 November 2019