Devisers: Zest Theatre
Director: Toby Ealden
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Anybody who’s ever watched a TED Talk and marvelled at how unaware the speaker is at how patronising they are being will feel right at home with Youthquake.
Zest Theatre’s new piece is named after Oxford Dictionaries’ 2017 word of the year, suggesting significant change due to the involvement of young people. It’s a word that has inspired a presentation by Becky (Claire Gaydon). She speaks in front of large, illuminated letters, explaining how she has hit upon a revolutionary new technique to increase youth engagement in political and social activism.
But as she continues, it becomes clear that her “twelve point plan” is just a rehash of platitudes, clichéd vacuities and stereotype reinforcement. It’s frustrating, and the audience begins to get restless. As Becky struggles to stay in control – having to bat away people wanting to ask questions, to chastise an audience member for noisily eating crisps – events start to slip away from her.
The disruption is part of the piece, of course: in this touring piece, Zest Theatre is pairing with local schools and colleges (in Stratford’s case, sixth formers from Newham Sixth Form College) to place teenagers throughout the audience. Led by Harris Cain’s Jack – the only other regular cast member – their characters express frustration with the world as it is, and the way young people are pigeon-holed.
Like the prerecorded audios that are also used at points, these views have originated from Zest’s workshops, interviewing over 800 young people from 11 cities across the UK. The themes they cover are familiar ones – from body image pressure on social media, to frustrations that the way knife crime is being framed in the media is disguising the real causes, and thus any prospect of change.
But just because the topics being raised here have been addressed before doesn’t invalidate the way Zest are approaching it here. This isn’t a show which suggests that there are easy solutions – indeed, the way Becky’s presentation proceeds suggests that jumping for solutions is impossible without listening properly first.
But as the “audience members” start to gain control of the narrative explain, pretending that young people have all the answers wouldn’t help either. The most thrilling suggestion, the the one around which the whole of Youthquke revolves, is that the whole concept of youth-versus-adults is part of the problem. Involving each other, listening to each other, is what these fictional representations of real young people want.
And while a show which ends its sixty minutes with confetti cannons and encouraging its audience to get on its feet and dance to an EDM soundtrack won’t change the world on its own, one can’t help but leave feeling a sense of hope that the people watching, young and old, remain as engaged and inspired going forward as they are with Zest’s lively piece of theatre.
Continues until 17 October, 2019