Review: Breakfast Plays: Youthquake – Squall & Fucking Millennials ****

Theatre

Breakfast Plays: Youthquake – Squall & Fucking Millennials

Traverse Theatre, v15

Various (ends 26 August, not 20)

**** (4 stars)

The second pair of plays in the Traverse’s Breakfast Plays in which a young writer and an established one produce their response to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of their Word of 2017, youthquake defined as “a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people. Today’s pair were, I think, much better pair of plays than yesterday’s: though I think the more experienced one still showed its quality.

Squall by Rebecca Sweeney was set in a very small ‘classroom‘ the size of a supplies cupboard, into which three students swipe themselves in turn. Excellently authentic-sounding dialogue gradually revealed that Rob and rebel Erin are convinced that this alarm from which they are taking refuge is yet another drill: Alice is much more anxious, sure that this time it’s real. ‘It’ isn’t simply a fire drill but a practice to prepare for the irruption into the school of a gunman. Every classroom now contains a gun, and the teacher who uses the room is trained in its use, though not all approve of this. Alice appreciates the safety of the refuge and sees the classroom guns as ‘on her side’: Erin is volcanically angry at the situation, which she sees as yet another form of control. An announcement that this is a real situation sends the students into panic…

There were a lot of laughs alongside the drama in this play, and Michael Ajao, Jamie Marie Leary and Kay McAllister gave excellent portrayals of young people raging at the way things are, and their powerlessness to effect change – until a sudden opportunity is presented to turn things around. I’m not sure how effective the proposed action might turn out to be, but it was an interesting demonstration of the potential of social media for catalysing action.

Fucking Millennials by Kieran Hurley was a two-hander, with Mark McDonnell’s Iain joining the excellent [and suddenly older] Kay McDonnell’s Zara in “an Edinburgh flat sometimes used as a brothel”. Iain is obviously ill-at-ease, protesting that ‘he’s never done this before’: he is surprised to learn that his ‘hostess’ is part of a workers co-operative who don’t allow alcohol, pimps, or wankers.

Most of the time Iain is aggressive and defensive, making patronising assumptions about Zara’s life and motives for working as she does: he tries to make excuses for himself – ‘older men have different pressures’ – as he gradually reveals his disillusionment with the profession he has chosen and the self-absorption of the young “chimps” with whom he has to deal. Each in turn asks the other “Couldn’t you do something else?” – but it’s not that simple in either case. Iain’s fond memories of reading stories to his young daughter prompts a wonderfully scathing condemnation of the premise on which many childhood favourites are based – Thomas the Tank Engine, Where the Wild Things Are, Lion King, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all come in for serious stick, but the strongest criticism is reserved for The Lorax: the complete overturning of every dearly-held childish belief was brilliant, and I’d love to hear it all again.

I’m not going to reveal the ending of either play, but I was delighted with both of them. Squall had some moments when it lost dramatic tension, but overall was engrossing, while Fucking Millennials had some cracking laughs and a lot of passion. Both are really worth seeing – a thought-provoking way to start the day.

Mary Woodward