These are the young people which are shaping the future of theatre, but is there a method to their madness? Young people continue, along with their hoodies, to induce fear in a large part of the population. Although they are not all the same, the accusations being made aren’t without just cause; knife crime related death rates, in recent years have been overwhelming. It is a shocking part of London life, which cannot be ignored.
This type of civil tension provides the perfect concoction of emotion and dramatic richness which good theatre thrives on. Young playwright’s such as Bola Agbaje have set the standards pretty high, when it comes to dissecting the social implications of gang violence and estate life. In her award winning play Gone too far, Agbaje displays the trials and tribulations of two young males in Hackney. She won the prestigious Laurence Olivier award for Outstanding achievement in an Affiliated Theatre in 2007 for the play, and won best playwright at the African Film Awards.
With an acute knowledge of the world she writes about, she is changing the face of theatre, and film with her writing. An achievement which is encouraging other young aspiring writers, from different ethnic backgrounds such as Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu.
Tristan’s first play titled “Skeen”, may induce panic attacks in those who still care for the sacred body of the English language, yet it is a direct attack at those stereotypes which plague London’s young people today. A play within a play, it tells the story of seven hauntingly typical urban youths in college who vow to put on , what they naively predict, will be one of the most fantastic end of year drama productions ever seen at their school.
“They think that to make it the best youth theatre production ever, it has to have a tremendous amount of swearing and it’s got to have sex onstage, drugs everywhere. Just obscenities that- it almost become nonsensical. Throughout the play they start to realise, is this what us youth are like? is this how we want to come across? Yes, let’s tackle a gang related subject but do we have to do it like this?”
It deals with the very idea that they don’t have to surrender to any self fulfilling prophecies they have been subjected to.
Tristan is the perfect example of a well spoken black boy, who single handily karate chops the south London bad boy stereotype in the face. Not only has he made the most of his community theatre programme, at Oval House Theatre- he wrote his own play whilst doing his A levels. Then had it shown as part of the 33% London Festival. Most students have to be forced to write, but here is a young person willing to do it in his own time, to educate the people around him.
“When you see things like this, what do you think it says about you? and are you willing to change it? It’s all well and good to say I don’t like this, I don’t like that, but what are you going to do about it?”
So should youth theatre be overlooked as a serious genre? A couple of nights at a community theatre and an audience headcount made up mostly of overzealous school peers and cheek pinching aunts, shouldn’t fool anyone. It is through experimentation which we learn, and perhaps this way we can get through to other young people.
Nevertheless, how much of this are theatre goers willing to stomach? Is there any artistic integrity in this type of theatre? Insert Anne Marie quote
Tristan believes the reason why communities shy away from watching theatre about “street” life, is that it hits too close to home.
“I think community based theatre is very honest and I think that it’s what a lot of people are scared of… scared of honesty. My mum didn’t like Top Boy, because she works in hackney where it was based, and she knows it’s all happening, but she didn’t want to see it she didn’t want to know it was there. Just like city of God made Brazil look less glamorous than it should be, but it’s there and you have to address it.”
With films such as Kidulthood and television shows like Top Boy, is it any wonder that the glamorisation of street life, as it is always oversimplified, is becoming slightly tedious; or is it a case that people are too afraid to have the truth thrust upon them in stunning high definition? With television and film you have the choice to change the channel , but with theatre, not only is it in your face, but it is being acted out by the very people who deal with those issues on a daily basis. That may be a hard pill to swallow.
In the light of the recent riots, it was slightly bad taste to schedule a programme which sees three young black males, dealing with yet again, the stereotypical life of gun and knife crime and drug dealing. Creative director of drama company Silhouettez in The Dark Damilola Fashola wants to see a change.
“I saw an interview with Noel Clarke where he was talking about the reasons behind writing the screenplay for Kidulthood. He said that he wrote another screenplay, completely different to that one, still including black youth, but no one was interested in picking it up. I’d like to believe that, but until I see evidence of him doing something else, I just won’t believe it.”
Agreeing with Tristan and Damilola is easy: they are advocates for young people, although they both insist “not all youth are brilliant”. Tristan protests they all have “a voice”. A voice, it must be said, that has come from an older generation led by the likes of Noel Clarke and Adam Deacon. They have provided a view of London youth so stifling that no wonder young writers are influenced to never think beyond their own postcodes. Even Ashley Walters, who after being part of the cast of top BBC show Hustle, reprised a role in Top Boy, similar to all roles young black actors fall prey to. Something which touched Tristan’s nerve.
“I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the drama…but there was a point that really got to me. The lead character played by Ashley Walters says something along the lines of “This is the best I can do” about his drug dealing- but he was in a nice flat with his mum. That’s clearly not his only option!”
Young writers have been given the creative license to “write what they know”. However, shouldn’t we encourage the use of their imagination? or is the West End the place where sugar coated, nursery rhyme like stories, lull us into a false sense of security within the confinements of our velvet lined seats?
Perhaps what youth theatre is doing is making people within the community see the truth for what it really is: these young people are angry, and whether they have a reason to be angry or not is debatable and subject to speculation- yet as Tristan rightly said “The fact that there is even theatre being produced by young people should tell you that there is something good there.”