After the success of last summer’s ‘DNA’, ‘The Young Pretenders’ are back with their contribution to the National Theatre Connections 500 Festival, with their performance of Stacey Gregg’s ‘I’m Spilling My Heart Out Here’; a fairly shallow play about the trivial difficulties of teenage life. The script is somewhat stuck in a chasm between naturalism and absurdity and Gregg doesn’t offer any unique or fascinating insight surrounding the onerous confusion that is being a teenager – and yet – these young performers have masterly made a spark-less script into a roaring fire of a piece.
Guided into the dark depths of nightclub basement, the audience is taken to their seats facing what can only be described as a Patrick Bateman fantasy, with the stage completely covered in tarpaulin. Immediately, the audience is pulled to the edge of their seats. The cast is already in formation on stage as the play opens with an intricately designed, if not relatively over-indulgent, piece of choreographed movement showing the teenagers delivering a string of Chinese whispers to one another, before the teenagers erupt into a violent lava of peer pressure.
We are then thrust into the life of a teen, barraged with a number of coming-of-age clichés; mean girls, backhanded compliments, insecure boys, unrequited love – the list could go on. However, among the hackneyed adages there are glimpses of brilliance in the writing. We are told that growing up is simply “getting better at lying”, that “boredom leads to babies” and when asked “what happened to childhood?” the response is simply “the internet”. All of these lines are beautifully observant and deserve more attention, but it is just made too difficult for the audience to appreciate these lines through the rest of Gregg’s empty babble.
Having said that, perhaps this is purposefully used empty babble, showing us the banality of our childish fights, which at the time felt like they meant the world. But then, when a genuine and actual danger presents itself – like when one of the group gets in over her head – we all acknowledge our triteness and come together to show compassion to those truly in need of it.
Not one member of the cast ever leaves the stage – if they are not involved in the action they rest passive at the side, staring into a light, swiping in all directions in an elegant metaphor for this generation’s addiction to screens, or, what is essentially just a light. Yet, while we’re left pondering the futility of these devices, their importance to the modern day world surfaces; when one young girl is in trouble, she can send an SOS to everyone she knows. Even though only one or two people may reply, this justifies the “lights’” significance.
The production itself is majestic and breathes life into a limp script, and huge plaudits must be given to director Lucy Hirst and her team for a highly inventive and wonderfully unique interpretation of the text. Paint is at the foundation of the design (which explains the tarpaulin) and the young cast use it as a weapon, a source of play and mischief, demonstration, eventually leaving each other stained and scarred as if they were blank slates, and the society and environment surrounding them has turned them into an entirely new creation.
Finally, these young actors deserve huge praise. Their focus throughout the piece is remarkable, and each person brings a thoughtful and gentle characterisation to the stage with sublime execution. They confront the blurred lines of gender and sexuality with a maturity far beyond their years and with greater respect than those who are three times their age; a credit to their awakening generation. Hirst has clearly created an environment where these young minds can flourish and express their truest selves, and with funding and prominence of the arts in education continually falling, these young maestros have presented an inarguable defence of just how important theatre is.