Being young is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? All you can remember, as you look back at those carefree days and that glorious summer before going to university, is the sunshine and the happy times, yes? Those heady days when everything seemed possible and all you had to do was to go out and enjoy yourself with your mates. Wasn’t it fantastic?
Yet was it? Because when you get older you tend to forget all the confusion, the insecurity, the vulnerability and the sheer emotional nightmare we all went through when we were young. It is a very confusing time and If This Is Normal captures all that angst perfectly.
Writer Lucy Danser’s play is, like most teenagers, full of verve, energy, sprit, fun and emotion. It follows the friendship of three young people, siblings Madani and Maryam who befriend Alex at a young age.
They first meet at primary school and become best friends throughout their childhood. Maryam is the clever one, a feminist who is politically active. She wants to learn everything she can about the world. Alex is more emotional, slightly ditzy and unsure of herself and knows she is not as bright as Maryam. Madani wants to become a man, is going down to the gym, learning to box, yet he is not quite sure what it is to be a man in the modern world.
The story is simply told. Structurally, it is very interesting with the characters talking mostly in separate monologues from the beginning. The writing is spare and punchy drawing you in to the characters with this ingenious shorthand method of getting the action moving along.
Central to the drama of the play is sex, consent and understanding. This is where the play gets really interesting as it examines sexual politics through the lens of three people who all betray different levels of naivety and misunderstanding. They are trying to understand these thorny issues whilst also doing exams and trying to find their place in the world.
Aoife Smyth was outstanding as Alex who finds herself at the centre of the drama. Her portrayal of this emotionally immature, confused and eager to please woman was skilfully done. It was a seamless, artful performance full of passion and power.
It has to be said that Isambard Rawbone had a difficult job to do with Madani. The character is probably not as well drawn as the other two, but he managed to convey masculine vulnerability convincingly which is not easy to do.
Zarima McDermott gave Maryam a wonderful intensity and desire. She is comfortable talking about sex and seems steadfast and secure in her beliefs until she realises everything is far more complex than she thought. It is here, at the moment when things breakdown that she was impressive. With just a brief expression of not just confusion but pain as well she showed how Maryam’s world had suddenly crumbled to pieces.
There are a number of nice light moments in the play, but this is a hard-hitting piece of theatre which I would definitely recommend.
It will continue at 53 Two in Manchester until April 30th, check the Chatback Theatre website for more details about the tour. https://www.53two.com/if-this-is-normal
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 26th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★