CommonWealth

CommonWealth, Almeida Theatre

Roz Wyllie  Directed by Caitlin McLeod  ★★★
Pros: Timely look at the world of the privileged few.
Cons: Not really sharing anything new.
Our Verdict: An enthusiastic bunch of young and brave performers.

Courtesy of Almeida Theatre

I was very impressed by this cleverly devised performance that explores social inequality and the world of private education. The Young Friends of the Almeida company, working alongside a professional team, are clearly the best placed to present a play that deals with the experience of today’s young people.

The simple title is a clever use of word play and perfectly encapsulates the ethos of the show. Anna, a new student at an unnamed private school that is populated by the top one per cent of Britain’s youth, is faced with the dilemma of having to choose between setting up networks with her peers to safeguard her future, or continuing her relationship with the underprivileged barman who is not her social equal. The story is identifiable on so many levels and a great insight into the world of the youth who will one day govern us all. However, it does at times fail to share anything new. What is new and exciting though are the various theatrical devices the company uses to engage the audience. The use of mobile telephones in plays always irks me, but for a show that concerns itself with adolescent development it is absolutely essential. The pulsating electronic soundtrack is very modern and complements the storyline.
The show presents the frightening thought  that callousness in some is bred so young. You could imagine a lot of these characters being responsible for a future financial crises. Are our kids growing up too fast? Are they steered on the wrong path too early in life? The play aroused heated discussions among audience members.
There are some very talented actors strutting their stuff on stage and giving life to some highly intelligent dialogue. But there’s the rub: some of the dialogue is a bit too intelligent, perhaps a bit too grown up. It can at times sound quite clunky. Would these kids, and that is what they are after all, really speak like this?
All the performers are quite good, with some standing out more than others; however, this is due to the nature of the roles allocated. The set design was superb, as is to be expected from a production staged at the Almeida. The use of three big block-like columns clad with Astroturf-like material as set pieces to differentiate scene changes was very clever and made for distinct scene changes. The direction of the show was smooth and kicked along at a constant pace. Ultimately, however, I got the feeling that the general gist of the show was ‘posh bashing’. Did anyone who put the show together have any firsthand experience of the world they produced on stage? I’m not so sure. There was plenty to admire on stage, but much of it was a bit hard to relate to.
I really must congratulate the entire cast and crew for producing some excitingly staged work that deals with many current themes. It was not perfect, but perhaps that is a good thing. Who wants perfect when you can have challenging? Who wants five-star reviews when you can provoke heated discussions and debates? That is ultimately the goal, I think, of pieces like this. I am proud that the company gave us an ambiguous ending, rather than take the easy road and tying up all loose ends.
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