You can have too many carrots in one show. Is that the sort of thought that thought-provoking theatre should provoke? But if carrots are indeed your bag (or bunch), let me introduce you to the Macready Theatre. The Theatre is a working professional theatre wholly owned by Rugby School, a coeducational independent school for 13-18 year olds in Warwickshire. The theatre’s policy is to give away one third of all touring work tickets for free to local school groups, which is a five star decision in itself. The cast here, called the ‘Square Pegs’, comprises seven A Level students, all from the school, in a play principally written by their lead drama teacher.
The school’s desire to give young people a voice is praiseworthy
The play explores the attitudes and mindsets of young people through an echo of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. So far, so good. There are plenty of parents who might be convinced that absurd characters sitting around talking a lot of nonsense but doing very little have something in common with their own teenagers. The play asks us to observe seven 17-year-old children in a box, surrounded by a wall of noise, who talk like English teenagers but turn out to be foreign language refugees. The children are dressed in black tailcoats and white shirts, all with suitcases to denote their refugee status. This bit is harder to swallow. Do refugee children really have the same materialistic chat as middle class English children from a private school, even if one of them is presenting everything in a Liverpudlian accent? Manvir Bawa was engaging and self confident but even he struggled to present an image of teenage thinking that truly crossed borders. Is there actually a universal teenager? It is hard to see that such a figure would focus primarily on the state of their nails and variations of carrots.
There were some fun lines in the script. I enjoyed “I’m not racist, my mother’s a quarter Welsh” amongst other similarly snappy one-liners. “We are all -ist” said one character and this seemed only one letter p away from pithily describing the entire Fringe. But it was difficult to see what it all added up to, even if the intention was to provide an inner monologue for a teenage refugee. And the one thing that Beckett does give us in Godot are moments of silence, extended pauses, periods of tranquillity. These were entirely missing in this piece. The non-stop cacophony, continuing even during the picnic of carrots and incorporating knocking, thunder and loud music, would have benefited from occasional calm. Even more grating to my ears was the decision to put bad language into young mouths – was it necessary to use the F word 17 times? (Yes, I counted).
The school’s desire to give young people a voice is praiseworthy, as is advocacy for refugees, new writing and their commitment to theatre access for local schools. But it needs more sensitive handling than this, more truth, more moments of silence and perhaps a few less carrots.