[BLANK] by Alice Birch and NYTP

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Alice Birch’s writing. Like a lot of playwrights emulating the style of Sarah Kane, Birch’s work is somewhat disorganised and can feel hard to follow, not to mention that a lot of her dialogue can feel stilted. What [BLANK] does well though is give platforms for actors to showcase their abilities. This is great for the Northern Youth Theatre Project, a company with an inspiring core message, and a lot of impressive talent.

NYTP’s production is a great showcase for its young talent.

The play itself is a collection of scenes focusing on life without adults. Themes vary in intensity, some are as serious as murder or child pregnancy, others are just life without one's parents. The play, while initially written as a piece specifically focused on adults who are imprisoned, has been adapted in a way to make it much more abstract but more impactful given that the actors genuinely are young teenagers. The tone is much more similar to Skins than it is to anything else, which works. It also gives the young actors not only the chance to shine, but also gives them a diverse set of roles to try their hand at. So even if one actor might not gel exceptionally well in a certain role, they may be amazing in a different scene.

I don’t want to single out too many lone actors for praise (it is a company of 14, after all) but Iola Wood, Lewis Densley and Lucy Peacock are each able to bring an incredible amount of diversity to the stage in the roles they play, which is impressive given how many scenes in which they appear. Elkie Robinson is also exceptional, both as an actor, and as a vocalist, singing the great song “Empty Bottle” towards the play's finale, something she wrote with Zak Younger Banks.

My problems with the play are twofold. Firstly, it does fall into the GSCE drama student trap of linking scenes together with the same loop of club music - not a bad thing per se, but definitively an uninteresting thing. Secondly, I would have liked for more of the actors to have been given more scenes. A few actors dominate the majority of the play, so one or two will be in just a single scene, which defeats the purpose to an extent. It’s not an issue for an ensemble show to have members who hold heavier burdens, but everybody should get a chance to show what they’re capable of.

That said, NYTP’s production is a great showcase for its young talent. [BLANK] shows off its young actors well, and shows that the company is dedicated to its message of inclusivity and acceptance.

Reviews by Miles Hurley

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The Blurb

BAFTA-nominated writer Alice Birch wrote [BLANK] as a series of unrelated scenes, some of which seem connected, others not. It's about what life is like when adults feel absent from it. This challenging, fast-paced piece tells many stories of desperation in chaotic situations and the fragile connections young people make to survive. [BLANK] was a co-commission for Clean Break and National Theatre Connections 2018. Northern Youth Theatre Project (NYTP) first performed a version of [BLANK] at Northern Stage in Newcastle and created this new production for Fringe 2019, incorporating original music by the company.

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