Now, as anyone who as ever met me for more than two minutes will know, I’m a bit of a show off; never happy unless I’m the centre of attention with all eyes on me. I’ve always been this way I’m afraid, so when I was younger I naturally gravitated to the Youth Theatre. Alas, my talent as an actor was somewhat overshadowed by the fact I was simply rotten at it. I trod the boards for a few shouty overwrought years before realising that if I was ever to play The Dane I would most certainly be putting the ham into Hamlet.
These early experiences of youth theatre might have jaded my expectations of Promenart’s theatre project, filling my head with visions of drama school brats filling the stage with over enthusiastic abandon. I’m very glad to say this wasn’t the case, what I did see when I found my way to the performance was a different beast indeed.
Promenart Theatre Project, funded by Leftcoast, was a piece of theatre created over one week by young people with no drama experience required. A thirty minute show was made, using the mighty Jim Cartwright’s play Mobile Phone Show as the bare bones.
There were two performances of the show last Sunday, one in the Winter Gardens and one at The Oracle. Thanks to Blackpool Transport’s uneven service I missed the Winter Gardens show but was able to wander down to The Oracle for the second performance.
The Oracle, for those who may have missed it, is the big orange building in South Shore. It is a purpose built young persons centre which is home to a number of top flight facilities, including a theatre space. It’s an impressive space, seating a hundred with high ceilings and a basic lighting rig. It’s somewhere that needs to be utilised a lot more. Hopefully projects that show the full potential of the space, such as this one, will open the doors to a lot more theatre being performed here.
After a slightly grating musical intro of pop songs relating to telephones, the near capacity crowd settle down to watch the performance.
The dozen young actors arrive on stage, heads down and full of the slouch and swagger of youth, like a gang of reluctant monks, their faces hidden behind matching black hoodies.
The show explores the relationship we (or the younger generation) have with the ubiquitous mobile phone. It does this through a series of snapshot scenes depicting how these bleeping machines have become ingrained into our every waking moment. For example, a lost soul whose mum won’t let her have a mobile due to radiation fears goes from nondescript to ‘descript’ by the secretion of a found phone. This becomes her social saviour, which is nicely echoed by her sneaking it into church. Writing such as this shows how sharp and multi levelled it is throughout. Further scenes show the power of unity that having a mobile infers to the young, being able to call a gang for support when a security guard oversteps his mark. Or the horror of losing your beloved lifeline with its texts that you think will be your grand-kids’ legacy. Other scenes highlighted the interpersonal communications breakdown that occurs when you can contact anyone in the world yet are ignoring the person next to you.
The script, as previously mentioned, is very sharp, but it’s worth taking your hat off to the young company of actors, some of whom had to learn long and technically complex passages in less than a week. Very impressive.
These scenes were interspersed by comic interludes by a trio of actors who, for me, stole the show. This was no easy task as the level of everyone involved was brilliant.
The audience were then involved and ‘text offs’ occured, kind of like a modern day high noon showdown but with mobile phones. Then, a Blackpool seaside symphony was orchestrated as every iPhone was set to play a jolly ringtone in concert. It was a bold and confident decision to involve the audience as this can sometimes either go off into random territory or fizzle out, but it was pulled off with aplomb.
All in all the show was great, of a very high level, not just in performance but in sheer commitment by the young company and hopefully those involved will go on to create more theatre. I hope so, as they worked well as an ensemble.
It’s always nice to see a positive youth event, simply to dispel the gloom you often read in the media of gun-toting feral youth burning down churches and listening to their rock ‘n’ roll music. This was a great project which must have taken some superhuman effort to organise and perform in such a short amount of time. Plus, it’s always good to have an insight into the world of the mobile phone outside of checking your Facebook and ringing your mum.
Images by Jill Reidy of Two Old Birds Photography.
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