"The Wave is THE WAY", boom the Almeida Young Company (14 – 18) before thudding their fists into their chests. They are powerful, they are huge, and they are one. This military gesture is at odds with their setting – a classroom in a local comprehensive.
The ensemble have energy. The Almeida Young Company are a force to be reckoned with.
Such is the premise of playwright Molly Taylor’s The Wave. Students who sign up for A-Level Sociology find themselves the unknowing participants in a larger experiment. Taylor’s play explores whether well-meaning students will buy into core tenets of fascism - if the name of the ‘ism’ is hidden from them and called something else (the eponymous ‘Wave’).
It is an exciting premise and The Wave is at its best when it explores private spaces, such as a secret Whatsapp group that the Wave members use to communicate with each other. In this space, their emerging intolerance of others is embryonic and private. This is where it is most threatening. Taylor’s writing here is superb, as it allows for natural and easily recognisable ‘group chat’ dynamics (emojis, abbreviations, .gifs) to take over the space, whilst positioning this against a green fascist gloom cast by Philip Burke’s unsettling lighting design. Everything is subliminal and subsurface. Taylor’s play asks the audience to consider just how many secret Whatsapp groups are coordinating social groups today.
The ensemble have energy. The Almeida Young Company are a force to be reckoned with. The characters bear a febrile tension that originates from being grown-up enough to not trust the grown-ups. Yet their sociology teacher charms them with charismatic poise reminiscent of Jordan Peterson. He is clearly a ‘baddie’, and yet he is so agreeable that it is hard not to feel his persuasive tug – a major characteristic of any extreme leadership style: recruit your followers charmingly, before you reduce others alarmingly.
Roberta Zuric and Valerie Sadoh’s direction captures the longing of being young and the hunger to be part of something larger than yourself. Some scene transitions feel exaggerated and the movement direction cold be held to a tighter lens across the play. Taylor’s script is certainly relevant whilst populism of many kinds sweeps Europe and nations elsewhere. However, the reveal – that this is a simulation, an experiment – takes place quite late in the script by which it is already clear that this is a conceptual training programme rather than the real thing. The concept is then explained several times across different scenes – delimiting the pay-off when there is a mass reveal in a school assembly.
The Wave is a parable. Nearly everyone would consider themselves as unrecruitable to a fascist doctrine. In a democratic society, images of Nuremberg and National Socialist rallies seem like an individual impossibility – but those images are of the end result, not the early cause. Fascism is a process which makes you feel included and results in the exclusion of others – and Taylor’s writing shows a clear and often unflinching understanding of this.