It would be very easy for an audience to overlook this production in choosing a night out. The publicity material and blurb on the theatre’s website is not particularly inviting; emphasising the mixed response that Peter Morris’ play received on its debut 15 years ago, while highlighting the hard-hitting themes of the production. Naturally, a play focusing on child cruelty, abuse and murder needs to forewarn its audience; this is not a play for all audiences and certainly not for the faint-hearted, but what the promotion fails to do is hint at what a gripping, well-performed evening lies ahead for those willing to take the risk.
Blending two monologues in intersecting chapters through the evening, The Age of Consent takes the audience into the living space and mind-set of two very different characters – Timmy, a young man in his late teens who addresses us from his room in a youth offenders institute, and Stephanie, a single-mother determined to see her young daughter make a successful career in the limelight. The clever crafting of the script ensures that the audience is drawn in to both stories from the very beginning, eager to switch back and forth to uncover the latest development in each character’s tale.
This is theatre writing of excellent quality: a script which can put an audience at ease instantly with two new characters, only to suddenly unnerve them with a single word or phrase; a script which has the capacity to make an audience laugh out loud at characters’ references only to then switch giggles for gasps as the shocking implications of those references become apparent. Throughout the evening, the audience is taken on a chilling journey on which they are constantly evaluating the appropriateness of their own instinctive responses. It is truly gripping unnerving drama which does what great theatre ought to do; taking hold of both actors and audience at the very core of their being.
A good script is nothing if not placed in the right hands however. I must confess to an instinctive apprehension when presented with a programme that promotes a young graduate theatre company taking on ‘shock-factor’ performances. More often than not in such cases, it is the youthful exuberance around wanting to be extreme that takes over any focus on artistic skill. Fortunately, in the hands of The Green Room Theatre this is certainly not the case. Yes, there is still a student naivety here – the programme notes would benefit with a little more professionalism and there are a few elements which hint at more student than professional theatre experience, but there is an exciting potential here for this newly emerging company of former Aberystwyth students. Taking on a 2-hand play of this magnitude is no mean feat and to deliver a performance with such power of engagement requires a cast and production team who truly understand their art.
Full credit is due to all members of the production team for a slick, contemporary staging. The direction by Andrew Sheldon and Callum Green is notably detailed without being laboured. A lot of attention has been paid to varying the pace of the storytelling, allowing for those glorious moments of emotional changes to have an impact on the audience. Meanwhile Ben Cooper’s subtle handling of the lighting design is perfect for allowing the transition back and forth between prison cell and suburban living room.
Without doubt however it is the unsettling, solid performances that hold this production together. While there are no narrative links between the two characters, the blending of the two performances is so well-matched that it ensures a coherency across the piece.
Elli Bruce as scheming stage mother Stephanie was pushy, laughable and at times repulsive in perfect measure. Hers is (unexpectedly) the least sympathetic of the two characters and it is perhaps for this reason that the audience takes longer to warm to her performance, though the early minutes were a little more affected in terms of movement and mumbled diction. Once she relaxed however, her performance became a very natural portrayal that became more and more chilling as her story progressed.
Taking on the role of young offender Timmy, Adam Redmond was from the outset engaging and thoroughly believable. Here was a performance of such honesty and credibility that you could not help but question everything you thought about his crime and situation. The delivery of the closing challenge was beautifully handled and ensured that the production ended on a final note that left the audience questioning their own mind-sets as much as they had interrogated those of the characters for the previous few hours.
This was a tense, gripping evening of theatre from an exciting new company. If this debut is any indicator of what they are capable of in future, I am sure that the name of Green Room Theatre will be adorning many a reviewer’s page for years to come.
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