Shell Connections: Citizenship / Chatroom, National Theatre, Cottesloe, London
Monday 11 July 2005
The opening double bill, on Wednesday, of the Shell Connections NT Festival was, to put it mildly, a pleasant surprise, featuring performances that were never less than competent and thoughtful, and were frequently stunning. The first play - one of the 10 commissioned annually for the festival - was Mark Ravenhill's Citizenship, a tragicomedy of sexual anxieties, performed by students from Glenthorne High School, Sutton (another production, by the National Youth Theatre, is on tomorrow night).
The central character, Tom, is burdened by a fear that he may be gay; but his attempts to clear up his confusion are one by one baffled. His friendship with Amy founders under peer pressure ("You ride her like your bitch?"). The sympathy he expects from his friend Gay Gary is not forthcoming ("That's just a name. You touch my arse, I'll kill you, see?"). The only gay teacher at school resists Tom's attempts to cast him as a mentor ("This isn't biology. I'm citizenship"). He even consults a ditzy tarot-reader, who, in the play's funniest scene, struggles to maintain an air of ethereal, New Age wisdom.
As in earlier plays such as Shopping and F***ing, Ravenhill displays an acute ear for the language of the moment - a satirist's grasp of how thinking can revolve around catchphrases and jargon. The plot itself is not up to much; the action consists, rather, in the ways that the characters shift between different registers - stoner slang, would-be gangsta, therapy-speak and the feelgood vapidity of modern public bureaucracy. One of the best lines comes when his teacher reassures Tom that his sexuality is not a problem: "You know school policy. We celebrate differences," he recites wearily.
But this up-to-the-minute feel can be a weakness - in all his work, Ravenhill shows signs of not recognising that the ways in which the present is different from the past aren't necessarily more important than the ways in which it is the same. Citizenship veers at times toward slick journalistic parody (and Ravenhill's plays always make me think what a brilliant journalist he would make: I don't know why some enterprising editor hasn't signed him up for the comment pages); but elsewhere it has a faintly worthy, issues-y feel - not unlike a school citizenship textbook. In the end, though Ravenhill dodges the temptation to draw lessons; that, together with his wit and the authenticity of the acting, made it an invigorating experience.
Preachiness never looms in Enda Walsh's Chatroom, set in a series of internet chatrooms, where a group of adolescents show off, flirt and play power games, all at a safe distance; though it seems that the distance may not be safe enough for the vulnerable Jim. Walsh's script begins with some superb comic riffs, delivered here with alternate viciousness and pathos by members of the Boomerang Theatre Company of Cork.
When things get serious, the pace flags drastically, and what ought to be a cathartic denouement has a muffled, uncertain impact. Still, the first half-hour of the script is unremittingly brilliant; and the way the cast responded to the script's ambiguities, hinting at the grim back-stories that underlie the comedy, was stunning in its sophistication and maturity. I'm cured: youth theatre doesn't scare me any more.
Season ends tomorrow (020-7452 3000)
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 Kajieme Powell: Missouri police release video footage of second man killed by officers
- 4 Paul Scholes: Manchester United need five experienced players who can turn round a desperate situation
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Laughs go global as Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran bring international comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women