With a large cast aged between 12 and 13,
Hearing from them in their own words would have undoubtedly been more interesting and powerful.
Set in a detention room on a school trip – a pretty far-fetched scenario – the adolescents discuss their worries and problems. Mason’s tired of being picked on by the teachers while choirboy Sam’s tired of being picked on by the other boys. Hannah and Mille are worried about fitting in with the cooler girls. They bounce off each other, getting various weights off their young chests until new boy James arrives in the detention room. James doesn’t talk like the rest of the kids – his thoughts are faster, more complex, more adult than theirs. The atmosphere changes, and explodes.
Most scenes are set up with the whole cast crowded into a rough semi-circle around the back of the stage - apart from four boys who are on a separate platform next to the audience and, bizarrely, pop up only once to sing a campfire song. As each character comes to discuss their problem, they step into the centre stage and deliver their bit, either as a monologue to the audience or speaking directly to their peers. There’s a lot of palms-up, leaning forward earnestly, and a tedious amount of waiting for the cast to stand up and sit down every time they speak. The script – part inner monologue, part dialogue, and full of old-fashioned vocabulary throughout – is confusing and difficult to stay interested in, and culminates in a sudden and unexplainedly dramatic ending.
Leading the story, the boys playing Mason (Columbus Mason) and James (James Rennie) are astounding. Mason gives a confident, selfless performance, devoid of the overly-staged conceits shared by other cast members. He has a real control over his facial expressions, which are impressively subtle. Rennie also is impressive as strange boy James – especially in mastering the difficult adult vocabulary his character is lumbered with. He’s dangerous, unpredictable, electrifying and a joy to watch.
The biggest disappointment of Breaking Voices is perhaps that the young cast have had words about their own experiences put in their mouths for them. Hearing from them in their own words would have undoubtedly been more interesting and powerful than seeing them used as a mouthpiece for an adult’s ideas on adolescence – and would likely have opened some of them up to giving a more compelling performance.