Natives – Southwark Playhouse, London
Writer: Glenn Waldron
Director: Rob Drummer
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Members of the first generation that will not have known life without mobile phones, tablets, and social media are now entering their teens and Glenn Waldron’s new 90-minute play taps into the minds of three 14-year-olds to reveal their inner fears. The play begins by drawing from Greek mythology before exploding with bursts of youthful irreverence and, finally, it develops into a powerful cry for help on behalf of youngsters needing to be saved from the crazy world that they are about to inherit.
The three characters, separate from each other in different lands, tell their stories in the form of overlapping monologues. A girl (Ella Purnell) at a posh boarding school in a tax haven is obsessed with personal image; every person or thing is rated 1-10, every classmate is judged by her number of Facebook friends, every comment is assessed by the likes or hearts received and every garment of clothing is called by its designer label. A Moslem boy (Manish Gandhi) is addicted to computer warfare games to the extent that virtual images and real life become blurred together. A chirpy lad (Fionn Whitehead) with an eye for the girls watches explicit Japanese gangster films on his mobile phone while attending his brother’s funeral.
Waldron takes these stories, milks them for comedy and then drip-feeds small pieces of information so that the audience becomes aware gradually that something sinister is underlying each of them. In parallel, the stories build to intense climaxes, conveying messages of urgent modern relevance. Only one object, a large boulder, sits on the traverse stage that is occupied by the three actors together for almost the entire play. They talk to the audience, sit on or hide behind the boulder and react to what the others are saying, contributing jointly to heighten the effectiveness of each other’s stories.
Rob Drummer’s production is lively and animated, reflecting all the exuberance and anxieties of youth. He uses lighting, designed by Zoe Spurr, and music that throbs constantly to build up tension as the audience, along with the characters, is led into the unknown. The girl discovers that the social media that she has used casually to demean others in her set can be turned on her; the Moslem boy learns that violent games must be distinguished from real extremism; and the lad sees the consequences of viewing his own life as a pornographic film.
With three performances that match the thrilling energy in the writing, this is a top class production of an up-to-date morality play that never preaches but entertains and enthrals throughout.
Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed