You Can See the Hills, Young Vic, London
Tuesday 05 May 2009
Smashing another boy to the ground, getting a girl pregnant when he is 14, cheering the near-rape of another – a standard adolescence in Oldham, it seems, according to this play. But what is most appalling about Adam's life is that he is not the product of a violent or broken home. He lives in a house owned by his parents, whom he loves and respects. Their circumstances are modest, but there is no want or anxiety. Yet Adam grows up without morals, without culture, alternating between excited indulgence and glum passivity.
The tone of You Can See the Hills is not, however, a gloomy one. Matthew Dunster's writing and direction and William Ash's sensitive and appealing performance as Adam have a chipper lightness, and there are many amusing moments to savour, such as the rituals of teenage courtship. Adam startles himself by telling a girl that he fancies her: "You don't do this – you ask your mate to ask her mate." The girl later allows him to remove her clothes and caress her, but insists on the presence of a friend silently munching biscuits and drinking tea.
Nor is Adam an unsympathetic figure, even when he gives his girlfriend, on hearing that she is pregnant, and, later, that she has had an abortion, the same two-word reply. His refusal to hold a grudge (he forgives the teacher who goes berserk and assaults him) and his tears at a film about illegal immigrants show us his essential sweetness, and when he behaves despicably we can see why: his parents haven't provided any proper guidance. Adam is in thrall to his classmates and to mob psychology, terrified of seeming weak and inviting isolation or ridicule. But, in their own terms, the Oldham parents are behaving responsibly and "realistically". A father looks after his 15-year-old daughter by driving her and the 14-year-old Adam home from a club where they regularly get drunk.
The play would benefit from cutting, especially of Adam's fashionably noble moment of applauding an AIDS sufferer and some of the puerile sexual reminiscences. More detail is needed, however, on social matters – we never know anyone's job. Anna Fleischle provides an evocative set, where Adam either tells the raw truth under hot lights or gazes to the tranquillity of the Pennines, so near and yet so distant.
To 9 May (020-7922 2922; www.youngvic.org )
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