The Yvonne Arnaud Youth Theatre’s Forever Young is a heartfelt portrayal of the damaged, tormented and stolen youths of the First World War through drama, poetry and song. Stories of individual experience are heightened by the incorporation of passages from the poetic writings of Sassoon, Owen and Brooke which were compiled in the midst of the conflict.
The staging is simple but cleverly effective; the use of shadow effects to project tall dark silhouettes onto the backdrop proves particularly atmospheric
Dressed in white shirts and breeches, the young four-male, three-female cast move from one role to another swiftly, showing an impressive versatility. They portray the pre-war pressures and finger-pointing of conscription, familial separation, trench life, the hopelessness of the wounded and the repercussions of the war experience on later life for the survivors. While these stories are attention-grabbing, they play too much on the usual trope of war stories: the young husband going off to fight, the underage soldier and so forth, without going into enough depth to invite the audience to delve wholeheartedly into the experience of these particular characters.
In addition to this, a clichéd mockery of figures of authority in the military seems to be a little off-tone with the rest of the performance, though it is clearly satirical. It seems that the troupe was a little too tempted by easy opportunities for comedy. Though no doubt intended as comic relief, caricature seems misplaced in a show of such earnest intentions.
The highlight of the performance is the decision to weave songs into the action. Emotion-packed singing emphasises human suffering on the one hand and the necessities of sticking together on the other. It celebrates the morale that soldiers were able to summon up, even in instances of pure devastation. The simplicity of the harmonious a cappella singing is poignant and reveals where some of the cast members’ most pronounced talents lie. Emilie Barrett in particular stands out with her confident delivery and powerful voice.
Moreover, the play has been efficiently directed. The staging is simple but cleverly effective; the use of shadow effects to project tall dark silhouettes onto the backdrop proves particularly atmospheric. The few props on stage are loaded with symbolism and are more than enough to convey a strong sense of place.
Forever Young is an enjoyable and thought-provoking performance that challenges the audience with a reminder of their duty to remember those whose lives were lost defending their country. However the genre of war-theatre is well-trodden, especially in this year of commemoration. This is by no means the show on this topic that stands out most at this year’s Fringe.