Now I'm A Big Boy!

If you believe ‘youth is wasted on the young’, then just for a second imagine it was lived by the not-so-young. Dorian Gray doesn’t cover it. We are thankful then, for sixth-former Sam Cartwright and his crew’s freshly written and produced play Now I’m a Big Boy!, which, despite its flaws, never rids us of the conviction that the people in the picture here are not doing so badly at all. This is a coming of age saga which, by examining in particular the issue of sexual consent, is brave enough to look back into the lenses pressed so close to teenage faces and to reply with insight and an unfeigned good humour.

The structure may be uneven and the denouement heavy but Now I’m A Big Boy! is a piece which stands foursquare on it’s conviction that young people can answer back effectively to their digital simulacra.

During a week spent in an undefined rehearsal space, five seventeen-year-olds fumble towards producing an original sketch for the Friday, unsure of which direction will best suit their talents. Their efforts, however, seem to be constantly blocked by the inept George, winsomely played by writer-director Cartwright. He is the grit in the group’s oyster and his slow lane socialisation becomes the piece’s forensic focus. As his sexual naivety pulls him towards a cliff edge, we feel just how hard it is to hear when the absence of yes means no. Boundaries are blurred, voices are loud and Cartwright gives George ample opportunity to examine the complexion of his loneliness in monologues and in his clumsy dealings with the other players.

The team’s leading light, Hannah, is convincingly acted by Anna Gould. She is confident and articulate, a future Owen Jones, destined for big things. Midweek, she disappears to star in an environmental demo – and is singled out as the protestors’ media mouthpiece. Her friend Rosa (Ruby McRolston) is less socially adept and compensates by being a little over-forthright in her attempts to steer the group. Yet her brassy facade hides a sweet empathy for the gawky George. Luke and Gus, played by Owen Edmonds and Harry Gordon respectively, are alpha/beta mates who josh and spill as the deadline begins to take its toll.

There is gentle satire as leadership – actual or perceived - is tossed like a hand grenade between the close-knit players. The team gathers and then fractures into existing bestie pairs, crushes or, in the case of George, solitude. None of these distillations bear fruit however, as the various line-ups turn out increasingly weak and unfocused material. A middle class salon is followed by a pair of hip hop Bonnie and Clydes and then a hackneyed crime scene. That they are all prewritten, almost templated, is (I hope) not a coincidence. A week spent in a sixth form drama class undoubtedly looks quite like this – and although the scenes are mildy funny, they are not half as well written or acted as the interspersing sections. Here, the actors fizz as they give vivid voice to their frustrations, hopes and fears.

The troupe’s performances, both real and imagined, are strong and collegiate, but it is during the naturalist flow of their confessional testimony that the audience thanks them for their honesty, awkwardness and vulnerability. We all know that growing up is not an easy business, but to hear it from the horse’s mouth is both funny and touching. The interplay between farce and mono/duologue builds towards the last scene in which George stands trial for alleged date rape and as the gavel falls, we are unsure whether this is another downloadable script, real life or both.

The structure may be uneven and the denouement heavy but Now I’m A Big Boy! is a piece which stands foursquare on it’s conviction that young people can answer back effectively to their digital simulacra. Their satire may require a little more perception of life to be accurate, but their own words, delivered with this kind of commitment and grace, are welcome, pleasing and worthy of a heartfelt applause.

Reviews by Charley Ville

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The Blurb

Now I’m A Big Boy! is written, produced and performed by 17-18's, tackling issues of growing up and the problems surrounding sexual consent. It starts off a thought-provoking comedy but progresses into an essential exploration on the topic of consent