“I’ve not seen anything like this in the 12 years I’ve been working at the Fringe,” was the observation from one of the tech guys I spoke to after seeing Ugly Youth, this year’s show by students from King’s Ely, at Greenside Infirmary St. He was being highly complimentary after I’d asked him what those spectacular display panels are called that flash up amazing images. Rather obviously, I found out, they are called LED Video Panels, but I don't do tech!
A theatrical triumph in every respect
Their name aside, they add an extra wow effect to this lavish original play written by the school’s Director of Drama and Theatre, Nick Huntington. It features over twenty students in a production, complete with a live band, that would not be lost on a West End stage; in fact that is where it really belongs.
The year is 2121. The population has over-reached its estimate. The 2099 Birth Act has been implemented and couples now need to apply to have children. Prospective parents must meet selection criteria based on health, relationship status, wealth, race, sexuality and the successful completion of exhaustive background and social networking checks. There are dissenting voices, rebel groups and lone illegal children living in fear of being discovered. Arkin is one of them. He has a reputation as a fighter. He is tracked down by the eponymous faction that needs his skills to assist them in their revolt against the UN’s tyrannical reign.
The students are from years nine to twelve, but perform way beyond their chronological age. William Pinto, aged only sixteen, gives a commanding performance, brimming with energy and physicality as Arkin, completely taking control of the action. Paige Newell accompanies him at various times on his exploits and matches his impassioned delivery. Equally powerful is Alfie Peckham as Ash, the leader of Ugly Youth. They are supported by a host of strong actors each contributing a vital element to the spectacle along with a large team of sound and light engineers.
Original music by Alex Judd adds to the intensity of the experience and the costumes by Kathryn Sudbury are simply stunning. Complex fight scenes are delivered with precision. Little more needs to be said about the LEDs but they raise the show to a staggering level of technical professionalism along with the ever-changing remotely controlled colours of the cubes.
I’m setting aside my own dramatic preferences to recognise this as a theatrical triumph in every respect, made all the more remarkable by the age group that has achieved it.