Emily-Louise Duff, Young Journalist, reflecting on Connections at the NT
For a playwright used to developing plays with complex ideas perfect for adult actors, it must be a challenge to then adapt their thinking and approach to create plays for young people aged 13-19. This is exactly what the writers at the Connections festival have to do, and while some may say it is a challenge, they have all risen to it to provide a variety of theatrical masterpieces.
Hilary Bell, writer of ‘Victim Sidekick Boyfriend Me’, made a very thoughtful comment during this year’s Connections Writer’s Forum; as an author of a play designed for a young cast of actors to perform, you have a responsibility to ensure the content is suitable age-wise and thought-provoking, yet not take on a patronising tone. It seemed that all 10 of the writers agreed with this statement which, I think, is reflected through the performance and reception of their plays.
Is there really a difference between writing plays designed for a younger audience? Michael Lesslie, author of ‘Prince of Denmark’, says there is no difference between plays aimed at a younger audience and those aimed at an older audience. He also said he aimed not to patronise, which was clearly shown through his consistent use of language effects that some might remove for a younger audience, such as Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. Whilst ‘Prince of Denmark’ explored the developing relationship between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Ophelia, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, co-writers of ‘Alice by Heart’, focused on pushing boundaries of the exploration of “adult stuff” as an adolescent. The subject matter of their play, including drugs and sex appeal, can be deemed as too explicit for teenagers, but they felt that the play showed the differences in sophistication within teenagers. It seems that there is no difference in the subject matters of plays for various age groups, but the way that they are approached reflects different sophistication levels within different ages.
Plays such as ‘The Ritual’ by Samir Yazbek, ‘The Grandfathers’ by Rory Mullarkey, ‘Journey to X’ by Nancy Harris and ‘Socialism is Great’ by Anders Lustagarten chose to address topics that can also be labelled as “too grown-up” for performers as young as 13 years old. The plays that do address matters such as secret organisations (The Ritual) and abortion (Journey to X), amongst other controversial topics, are written and performed in such ways that the age of the cast and audience are not the focus. Paven Virk, who wrote ‘So You Think You’re a Superhero?’, which was performed by a cast of the youngest participants in this year’s Connections, aimed to celebrate youth, writing a play that again was not patronising, but was adaptable and accessible for those who may not speak English as a first language or who may have a disability. In theatre, there are no right or wrong ways to address subject matters that can be seemed unsuitable for different ages.
If there is only one thing I’ve left the festival with, it’s the knowledge and faith that a good performance of a well-written play can be given by any aged actor, no matter how controversial the subject matter is. The youth of the performers and everyone involved technically shines through every performance, leaving an audience surprised at the high quality of acting skills displayed by teenagers with little or no past experience of performing, especially not at such a prestigious event.