Thursday, September 28

Young Love – 53two

The unbridled joy and total angst of teen love has proved a rich vein for theatre makers to mine over the years. Jake Talbot’s Young Love takes that traditional theme, and a set of fairly familiar storylines, but refuses to condescend his characters.

This is a production firmly grounded in a world in which younger generations are not naive and simple, but rather complex, thoughtful and, quite frequently, an example to their elders in terms of progressive ideas and how to treat others. Arguably, a world not unlike the one we are lucky to live in right now.

Oldham theatre company Dare to Know are back at Manchester’s 53Two after the success of Talbot’s own one-man show, Drowning, in March. However, returning audience members are in for a very different experience.

The under the arches space is totally transformed into a traverse theatre with seats on either side of a faux-tiled stage which feels like a long abandoned school swimming pool, scattered with detritus and leaves. It is a brilliant set design from Ste Jackson and David Talbot.

As the theatregoers filter in, they file past and through the large company, bathed in pink and blue light, courtesy of George Miller’s understated lighting design.

The cast dance and move in slow-mo to an original piece of music composed beautifully by Chloe Greenfield.

An occasional blast from a smoke machine and it appears the audience is present at a school disco.

As the show, and the disco, burst into life, there is an interpretive dance routine (amazing choreography throughout from Jayne Sladen) and the actors take turns to deliver lines from a touching meditation on love.

The poem’s words do feel childlike and glib, maybe even unearned, but stick with it because by the end, when they are repeated, it is clear the youthful nature is purposeful and masks an emotional understanding that packs a real punch.

What follows the poem are short scenes, bursts of dialogue, as we learn more about the large host of characters in Young Love.

The teenager petrified of sexual contact, a daughter turned carer for her sick father, the son still grieving his brother, a young girl questioning her own sexuality, the couple separated by thousands of miles who can only communicate online. The dizzying list goes on.

With the super talented young cast often doubling up on parts, the narrative can occasionally feel difficult to follow. However, in the end, it is the cumulative impact of all the stories that is important.

The whole cast are brilliant but there are some standout performances. Jessie Leiper as Jennifer is truly authentic in telling a story that is incredibly moving and very, very important.

Paisley James’ performance as Noah is sensitive and, at times, physically very funny. He shows real versatility in his other roles too. Libby Hall, Ellie Campbell and Azaelia Slade are all hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.

After weaving mysteriously and silently through everyone else’s stories, Kyle Barnett and Sophie Hough ensure there is not a dry eye in the house at the production’s clever conclusion.

The accomplished script is brought to life well by director Miranda Parker. In particular, some of the transitions and scene changes beautifully blend the stories together.

The intensity and momentum does dip slightly at one point in the second half. The show could well benefit from some editing and shaping to shorten the playing time but also to pull it into one act. Something which might well increase the power of the payoff.

While the music is gorgeous, it does feel a little repetitive at times and the sound or track changes certainly need tidying up.

Although 53two’s metamorphosis is outstanding, it creates difficulties for some of the actors who occasionally struggle to project to the whole space.

None of this should take away from the talented creatives, cast and crew who have demonstrably worked very hard to create a brilliant night of theatre.

The kids are alright and, more often than not, right.

Playing until 19th August 2023. Tickets and more information can be found here:

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick

Reviewed: 17th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.