This year’s National Theatre New Views Festival, a playwriting competition for 14-19-year olds, received 450 submissions. Over two days the eight shortlisted plays, along with the winning work, are all given professionally directed dramatized readings in the Olivier. 3.2.1 is the 2023 winner, written by 15-year-old Keira Grierson.
3.2.1 is an astonishingly assured piece of writing: poetic, polished, witty and supremely relevant. Only a teenager can write with real insight into the now-ubiquitous problem of the role of mobile phones and social media in the contemporary lives of young people. Grierson deftly sketches the potentially devastating arc which follows a boy’s request to a new girlfriend for an intimate photo.
Teenage Brynn’s opening monologue is fast and funny as she preens and pouts in readiness for a selfie. Without a pause she records her real self in evocatively rhythmic lines, beginning, ‘Slouch. Slump.’ Throughout it is Grierson’s use of rhyme and rhythm which give real power to the story-telling. ‘A pretty girl is …’ Brynn begins what becomes a litany of what society expects of her, followed by the contradictions of ‘A hot girl is …’. Both the group of joshing, bragging school boys and the altogether trickier girls reveal more of the tensions of patriarchal society in their own parallel lists.
Director Ian Rickson pointed out in the Q&A following the performance the formal qualities of 3.2.1 which echo those of Greek tragedy. In particular, are Grierson’s tightly written choruses and internal monologues in which individual teenagers admit to a host of confused feelings, feelings they feel forced to cover up in their social interactions. Grierson is admirably even-handed, giving an exactly equal number of lines to boys and to girls. She is understanding, too, of the dilemmas for teenage boys, exploring the question of what exactly it might mean to become a man. And she has no hesitation in showing just how savage teenage girls can be to their peers, criticising, labelling and finally excluding. But what Grierson also shows is how much of these behaviours emerge from insecurity and envy.
The young professional cast had only three days to prepare and risked going on without scripts which made for a particularly intense, exciting performance. In the Q&A, Grierson talked of her love of poetry out of which the piece emerged, and Rickson wisely fielded an audience question about whether she’d now develop 3.2.1 – no, he said: ‘You don’t look at a small painting in a gallery and then ask the artist to paint a bigger version.’ Young writers who took part in this competition are lucky to have had mentoring from such experienced writers and directors.
Applications to take part in New Views 2023/24 are now open. To register please visit the NT Website