This evening, Birmingham Repertory Theatre presented a humble and thought-provoking production of Richard Cameron’s stage adaptation of The Rotters’ Club, cast entirely from the performers of the Young REP. The play itself, inspired by Jonathon Coe’s original novel, explores the daily encounters of a group of school children as they live through the harrowing events that overshadowed 1970’s Birmingham. Underlying themes of racism and political division are exhibited amongst more light-hearted relationship conquests and nostalgic school boy humour to give the show both an entertaining and educational value. Director Gwenda Hughes has shaped the production with a perfect balance between humour and sincerity.
From a company comprised solely of young performers, I was impressed with the consistent level of professionalism. Within the cast there are some extremely strong performers who are already pushing boundaries; it is evident these youngsters have a very strong work ethic. Charlie Mills presents the role of Ben Trotter with exceptional relatability and is clearly a very gifted actor. He is the rock of the play, engaging us with the character from beginning to end and positioning us in his viewpoint for the most part.
He is supported by enthusiastic performances from Yusuf Niazi, Adnahn Silvestro and Andrew Morrin who play the group of friends he is at school with. The boys have great chemistry and it is clear they have had a lot of fun engaging with the material. Anna Bradley confidently plays the role of Claire Newman. Anna is vibrant and charismatic on stage, but is also able to cope with distressing scenes maturely and convincingly. A particular treat was watching Haris Myers; with a great aptitude for physical comedy and voice work, his performance leaves the audience in stitches, applauding his contributions to the show. This group of young people are very talented and ones to watch for the future.
The diverse and minimalistic set from Michael Holt allowed for swift and artistic scene changes that complimented the pace of the action. The effective newspaper style design and grey colour scheme created an old-fashioned filter, as if the audience were watching a black and white film. This helped to reflect the period, but also mirrored the cold mood of some of the more tragic events taking place. Stage blocking, coupled with Simon Bond’s use of lighting, was well designed to map the stage with clear and identifiable locations, even with the use of very few additional set pieces. 1970’s style props and costumes were used to provide authenticity and in addition, created an air of nostalgia for the audience, many of whom were entertained by the reminder of them. In addition, the use of projection and video created by Louis Price became an intriguing backdrop to the action, with particular emphasis on political and cultural propaganda. I am always impressed when the technology used in a performance becomes its own individual character and this was certainly the case here.
Overall, it was a treat to watch and provided real insight into life in the 1970’s. Whilst the play itself has some references to Birmingham, it was centred more so on time period as opposed to location, in that the plot could work just as well having taken place in other UK cities. For this reason, the play is diverse and certainly transferable - the production has been very well received and quite rightly so. Whether you fancy a trip down memory lane, want to gain some insight into what life was like at this time, or just want a good giggle – this show has it all.
The Rotters' Club plays at The REP until Saturday 9 April.
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