At the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, there is a work by the artist Robert Montgomery, a large piece of signage that declares ‘THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE’. It’s striking, and unfortunately, it comes to mind when reflecting on 21 Futures, a new play by Olly Hawes and the Macready Theatre Square Pegs Young Actors Company.
A play about teenagers, fantastically performed by teenagers, but ultimately written by not-a-teenager.
The play attempts to approach the lives of modern teenagers in the face of an uncertain future. Such subject matter screams with opportunity for modern, inventive and fresh theatre-making. There could be miracles, or rather, futures here! Unfortunately what emerges is a show where it's only saving grace is the obvious and beaming talent of its young cast. Also some pretty swag tracksuits but we’ll get to that.
The energy and spirit of 21 Futures lies in the 21 young actors who appear before us in an array of colourful tracksuits that would make Lewis Capaldi explode. This presentation allowed us to regard each actor individually; discovering them and meeting them. It’s truly a very exciting moment – just the sort of dynamism the production is so capable of emanating. Yet the destiny of the piece lies in its script which thrusts us head first into a poetic style that feels less 2019, more 1924 and a cycle of topics such as teen pregnancy, drug use and vanity – effectively all the stereotypes stereotypical older people stereotypically think teenage life today is like.
This is a reality the script does not shy away from, with the young actors often subversively referring to their ‘older, white male’ writer – so subversive, so trendy! Storytellers accepting their position in regards to the stories they’re telling is the first step towards achieving sensitivity but it isn’t the only step. This throwaway comment does not excuse the fact that this very much feels like a play about teenagers, fantastically performed by teenagers, but ultimately written by not-a-teenager.
This poses an interesting question: what exactly was the extent of the cast’s involvement? Did they contribute to the script? Did they come together in the devising of the piece? Were those fab tracksuits their idea? I thoroughly believe that a piece written and devised by this young cast would have been drastically more engaging, relevant, capable and necessary than what we are presented with.
There are so many ground-shaking issues affecting teenagers today that simply aren’t even considered here. Even if they are, they’re either skirted over at surface level (abuse towards females) or handled in a genuinely slightly disgusting way (suicide). There is so much to work with, so much nuance to be discovered with a bright and brilliant cast more than capable of this investigation.
Unfortunately the production is sabotaged by the fact that it simply doesn’t seem to understand what it is to be a teenager. At one point it is suggested that the writer of the piece never left adolescence. There will be no breath held here.