Tuesday, 4 April 2017

REVIEW: Natives at Southwark Playhouse

A, B and C are a girl and two boys from three different countries, whose names are never revealed. Today is their fourteenth birthday and we watch them struggling to get on with their families and with their peers. We witness their coming of age and their judgement of the world through the screen of their phones. The distinction between social media and real life is so subtle that, like them, we are tempted to ignore it and, through the screen of their phones, we filter their malaise and interpret their ordeal. Three very different but somehow analogous stories of trolling, online shaming, exposure to violent and pornographic contents and need for social approval, which converge at breakneck speed toward the same desperate solution. Their stories don't involve any grown-ups. The adults aren't there to help, too busy building their careers, mourning their losses or focusing in their daily routine. 

Glenn Waldron's Natives is an insistent reminder of the wall we often raise between us and the younger generations. A barrier that in our grown-up minds separates our important issues from their teenage problems, which we don't see as a big deal. The difficulty to communicate with the other side of the barrier can only be solved if we are ready to listen and if we are willing to adopt their ever-changing channels and languages. Albeit the depiction of the three characters might appear shallow, this should be considered as Waldron's deliberate attempt to outline the personalities of fourteen-year- olds, with their endless doubts and sudden mood changes.

The three actors – all at their professional stage debut – are good but require some more polishing. Manish Gandhi seems the most comfortable with a live audience and his delivery feels more natural than the others. Ella Purnell begins speaks too fast, especially at the beginning, and I fail to grasp the unfamiliar names she repeatedly mentions. Fionn Whitehead's brilliant career in film affects his stage presence, where he looks too stiff and excessively loyal to director Rob Drummer's instructions. 

Admittedly, the elongated traverse stage of The Little at the Southwark Playhouse comes with a few challenges, including the direction of the speech, which the cast must try and distribute equally to the audience sat on both sides. Looking like a catwalk platform in the middle of the auditorium, its white floor is ingeniously transformed by the creative team into a projection surface, which aims to celebrate the video culture the play is about.

The costumes are effortlessly meaningful in identifying the characters. Claire Wardroper assigned a shimmering ensemble to the try-hard girl who spends her afternoon in designer boutiques, a gym suit to the careless boy who doesn't care about a thing and an inconspicuous outfit to the boy who grew up in a large, conservative family.

Written with fresh and punchy tones, Natives is an urgent ride through the mind of three young adults and a valid lesson to the world on how the social media affect their perception of society and shapes their coming of age.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★
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