By Laura Ings-Self
The talent present in BLT’s youth group is obvious from the appearances several members have made on the main stage and in the bar, but the true scope of the ability apparent in their number – and the high standards set by Jessica-Ann Jenner and Pauline Armour – was overwhelmingly showcased in the triple bill of one-act plays the group performed.
We began with a two-hander featuring Josh Williams-Ward and Victor Poland. Staged as a rehearsed reading, these two young men did phenomenally well, bringing to life two very believable characters, keeping great pace despite the presence of scripts in their hands and perfectly hitting the humorous notes in this slightly absurd tale. The two had great chemistry and the relationship and power balance between the characters was carefully observed. They should be very proud of themselves, particularly – as I understand – they took on the roles fairly last-minute. The set was simple in appearance, but required a working dumb waiter and the use of several sound effects, all of which complemented the action perfectly.
After this, we were treated to a performance from the entire ensemble. The play, ‘Us and Them’ by David Campton explores the relationships between two neighbouring groups and resonates loudly in the current political climate. With confident narration from Edie Nelson as the clinical observer of the two tribes, we watch as they arrive, settle, notice one another and decide what to do. The ensemble worked together very fluidly, with lines zipping back and forth across the central “wall” and actors finishing one another’s sentences confidently, showing a solid understanding of the text and the context. The physicality of the piece was wonderful (and yes, had JENNER stamped all over it) with the construction of the wall being a particularly memorable moment as the cast rhythmically passed boxes to one another and stacked them to separate each group from the other.
Finally, we watched a smaller ensemble of ten perform ‘The Cagebirds’, also by David Campton. This is a complex piece about human behaviour and institutionalisation – no small feat when some of the actors are only twelve- or thirteen-years-old. The cast approached it maturely and their characterisation was thoughtful and insightful as well as funny and alarming. The characters in ‘The Cagebirds’ are all trapped inside their own worlds, obsessing over food or beauty or other people’s lives. Until, that is, a new “playmate” is introduced – one who wants to communicate, who wants freedom, and will try to break down the metaphorical walls between the others as well as the door to their “cage”. Pauline Armour’s direction ensured a fast pace and some very affecting moments as the Wild One implored the different groups of birds or the birds turned on the Wild One. The staging was simple, but the use of levels and a swing ensured the whole stage was employed and the audience could get a clear view of all the action. The costumes were incredible – all giving a slight suggestion of avian appearance but also clearly identifying each character’s foibles. The Wild One’s camo-print was suggestive of a resistance movement which perfectly complimented the character’s fight for freedom.
Edie Nelson was great as the Wild One. Her frustration at the others’ apathy in the face of their incarceration was palpable and her contrast to their repetitive recitals was lively and gave a sense of the character’s “wildness”, although I did feel, at times, that her characterisation could have found a deeper well of anger and injustice. Charlotte Lees performance of he Long-Tongued Gossip was familiar and humorous and her accent was very well realised. I was very impressed with Eve Chapman’s Medicated Gloom. Her speech was clear and her physicality was well-observed – an accomplished feat even without a broken arm! Jemima Rees’ Regular Thump treated us to some wonderful facial expressions and her characterisation was thoughtful and rounded. Alfie Gosling and Tara Haydar took on the role of the Constant Twitting between them and the two of them provided us with some excellent physicality and vocal effects. Similarly, Alicia Foreman and Jasmin Nancekivell- Smith portrayed the Mirror-Eyed Gazer and worked very well together, sharing lines and speaking in unison as well as both conveying the slightly dreamy affect of the character very competently. Raph Phillips was great as the Master, clucking at his charges in a way that belied the sinister role of captor very effectively. Aneira Knight was fabulous as the Great Guzzler, her characterisation was brilliant and every move she made stayed true to the physicality of the character.
If you’ve never seen a youth group performance before, I strongly recommend that you do!