Writers: James Beagon and Catherine Expósito.
Directors: Ruth Hollyman and Catherine Expósito
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Championing youth theatre in Edinburgh for over a decade, Strange Town return to the Traverse Theatre with two modern pieces; Little Boxes and Stolen Futures. Fitting for their anniversary, both productions take a leaping point of ‘future’ but differ vastly in content, narrative and structure. What they do share is a model example of Strange Town’s high standards of creativity.
Written and directed by Catherine Expósito, Little Boxes is a piece exploring the questions and troubles facing the youth today. Fuelling this issue is the very thing we love most, something you’ll likely be reading this on – our phones and social media. Labels, neat and tidy boxes we consign ourselves too. ‘Hierarchy and shite’, the pressure built-up in our own minds can often get too much for people.
Told over a year, two talented performers narrate each month, bringing their own humour, delivery and uniqueness. Despite the short run time, Expósito’s piece manages to develop character quite significantly. Little Boxes covers a variety of diverse topics, from the petty niggles which build into bullying, depression, sexuality and periods (word to the wise lads, they happen – get over yourselves).
In the closing moments, the Little Boxes cast seem ready to take a bow – though a few are missing. They bring flowers, leaving them to rest at the audience’s feet. We suspect the worst for one of the characters. What follows is instead a sucker punch of why Theatre is such an encouraging artform for the young. Creative directors Ruth Hollyman and Steve Small give such a virile slap to the audience to wake them up to the world around them that Little Boxes ending is something very few professional productions could get away with tastefully.
James Beagon’s world-building in Stolen Futures is fascinating. Housing persuasive concepts which, while recognisable from post-apocalyptic novels such as Children of Earth and Lord of the Flies, he stitches together to create something fresh. A key point of interest, which sadly isn’t looked into more is the idea of ‘pasts’ a race of monsters, humans from before the wars and destruction of the earth. These pasts are us. Me and you, not doing our part to prevent disfiguring the future.
An admirable job is done by the performers, many of whom are tremendously talented – especially younger performers Elissa Watson and Kel McNaught. They can’t save a stodgy script though. Where Little Boxes manages to get across its message clearly, Stolen Futures is shaping up as a two-act production condensed to an hours length. While its themes are important, they are put across in a narrative which needs better pacing. What we can salvage from the multiple tribes, myths and concepts is a harrowing reminder to wake up and hold accountability.
Little Boxes and Stolen Futures offer hope. A hope that finally, this world will recognise the pertinent need to support mental health, especially in youths. Financial support and research are reasonably placed within physical ailments, so too do we need mental and emotional research. Stolen Futures offers a glimmer that if we act now, we could save the future for the present and the future.
More though, they offer hope for the future of Scottish theatre. As funding support and decisions are subject to bureaucratic mercy, the ideas springing forth from writers, producers an onstage talent of Strange Town offers a beacon of pride. Commendable efforts, with the promise of much more to come.
Reviewed on 14 June 2019 | Image: Contributed