Review: Breakfast Plays: Youthquake – Grout & Old Enough ****

Theatre

Breakfast Plays: Youthquake – Grout & Old Enough

Traverse Theatre, v15

09.00 (ends 26 August, not 20)

**** (4 stars)

This year’s Traverse Breakfast playwrights were given as a brief the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word Of The Year 2017 – Youthquake: a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people – and on each day the work of an ‘emerging’ playwright being nurtured by the Traverse was paired with that of an established writer.

Grout by Ella Hickson contrasted the inner certainty of a young woman with the questioning ‘certainties’ of an older one, each with differing views of what certainty is and where it can be found. The younger woman asked the older to confirm her inner knowing, and was asked “if you’re so sure, why do you need to ask?” The older woman thinks the certainty of youth comes from naivety, while the younger one thinks that older people must be more certain of things – “you’re meant to tell me that it’ll all be okay”. Both attitudes are contrasted with that of a doughnut-and-phone-addicted young man, who appears to be sure of absolutely nothing, neither where he is nor what is happening around him [does he even know his own name, I wonder?] and asks to be shown what ‘sure’ means. The play opens in an unexplained darkness: the end makes sense of that beginning and maybe, just maybe, light dawns…

Old Enough by Laurie Motherwell took as its starting premise the introduction at midnight of a new law by which the age of majority is raised to twenty-five. Jo and Poll have come to a pretty bleak hotel room for a purpose which is initially unclear but which slowly emerges. Jo is only twenty, Poll is over twenty-five, so the new law materially affects her but leaves him largely unaffected. She is very angry at, he seems oblivious to the implications of the new law. He’s been ignoring the law since he started smoking [and other things] at the age of fifteen, he still lives at home with his parents, and from the sound of things is living the life of a child despite being officially over-age, even after the midnight which comes and goes without them having done anything: and the new reality knocks loudly at the door…

Overheard on the way out “I liked the first play. And the older actress was good”… to which I would add that all three actors were good, bringing the scripts to life without the benefit of any props or staging. Rihanna Macdonald and Christian Ortega were both excellent – Rihanna vibrant with the confidence of youth, Christian excellent as a self-absorbed and self-obsessed young man with an extremely limited appreciation of anything outside his immediate self. Joanna Tope had less to do in both plays – in fact, in Old Enough she merely read the stage directions – which was a pity.

Ella Hickson’s play demonstrated her ability to create a story arc with real people in it: Laurie Motherwell’s play seemed more like an argument between two people with little to hang on to apart from the words, in which I tended to get lost. I’m not quite sure how either of them fits the OED definition. I’m not sure where Grout [which fills the gaps between tiles] fits into the story, but I appreciated a work with shape and content. Maybe I’m too old to understand the full significance of Old Enough Jo’s ranting against the system: fewer words, less argument, and a few more concrete things to hang on to might have helped – or maybe the opportunity to talk to Jo and Poll and find out quite what they were, or were not, bothered about.

The audience appreciated the plays – maybe the first more than the second [I wonder what would have been the reaction had their order been reversed?], and the breakfast that enabled them to face them. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s offerings and hoping that they shed a bit more light on ‘youth’ and certainly that there will be some sort of quaking going on!

Mary Woodward