Theatre review: My Generation, West Yorkshire Playhouse

 

Unless you were part of the counter culture scene of the 80s and 90s you will probably know Chumbawamba best for their infectious hit "Tubthumping" or more likely the sublime moment at the 1998 Brits when band member Danbert Nobacon decanted an ice bucket down the front of John Prescott’s trousers.

The group encapsulated the best of the alternative lifestyle movement of the previous decades – staying true to their beliefs whilst having a bloody good laugh.

Singer Alice Nutter quit in 2006 to pursue a career as a writer and since then has penned screenplays for Jimmy McGovern’s The Street, The Accused and produced an aborted biographical radio drama of the life of comic Bernard Manning.

She also created My Generation which was broadcast on Radio 3 last year and caught the attention of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s new artistic director James Brining who is on a mission to connect the Leeds theatre to the untapped audiences of the city.

Nutter, originally from Burnley, lived in the band’s Armley squat in the early 80s, and provides an authentic voice of that time. As a participant to many of the events she describes, she offers a brilliant ear for dialogue and a terrific sense of humour.

In My Generation – which she candidly describes as an “anarchist version of Our Friends in the North”, a reference to Peter Flannery’s landmark 1996 drama – Nutter takes us on a journey through recent history via the experience of a family who tried to live their lives a little differently.

The passage of time, set to music by a brilliant live trio, is punctuated into four years - 1977, 1985, 1992, 2013 – and told through the stories of two generations. First there is Cath Wilson (Kaye Wragg) who tries to escape domestic drudgery through radical feminist ideals in Ripper-era Chapeltown.

We fast forward to the miners’ strike when husband Mick (Craig Conway) faces similar issues of idealism and betrayal as he struggles to come to terms with his past.

And then it falls to eldest son Ben (Craig Gazey), a baggy-era raver who hilariously embraces the hedonistic credo of the age until he too finds the inconvenient reality of other people’s lives starts to intrude. Finally it is the turn of daughter Emma (Helen Bradbury) to bring us up to date with a moral lecture on the soullessness of consumerism.

It might sound a little worthy but this is just far too entertainingly (and movingly) written, well-acted and cleverly realised to be anything other than an excellent night at the theatre.

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