A rude awakening for troubled teenagers


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The Independent Online

Are the kids all right? Not really, to judge by the Traverse's theatre programme. In Simon Stephens' Morning, which concludes with words "There is only terror. There is no hope", the troubled state of today's youth is laid bare in sinister and brutal fashion.

What looks at first like a classic teen drama – two best friends in a dead-end town; one is leaving for university and the other tries to make her stay – takes a swerve into violence and darkness. Stephanie is being abandoned by her soulmate, her mother is dying and, as in Stephens' brilliant Punk Rock, adulthood is about to intrude on innocent adolescence with a sickening thud.

Stephens workshopped his "play for young people" with actors from the Lyric Hammersmith's Young Company. While a little thin in parts, its power comes from its absolute authenticity. Sean Holmes has drawn out remarkable, raw performances from his cast, with Scarlet Billham darkly glittering as the disturbed Stephanie. An atmospheric and grimly compelling watch.

Downstairs in the studio, All That Is Wrong picks up where Morning leaves off. "Everybody wants a message and there is none," says Stephanie. "We could take to the streets but it won't change anything." As if to prove her point, All That Is Wrong begins with a confusing mêlée of placards and slogans. "People before Profits" morphs into "I Shop Therefore I Am".

This is the latest teen work from the experimental Belgian company Ontroerend Goed, following on from their noisy, messy Once And For All We're Going To Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen and Teenage Riot. This year's offering is a far more muted affair– literally. A slight 18-year old girl (Koba Ryckewaert) walks on to the stage and draws the word "I" in its centre in chalk. Over the course of an hour, she silently covers the blackboard beneath her feet with a spider diagram of her concerns and fears, or all that is wrong, from the skinniness of her legs to Syria.

As the "play" goes on, her writing gets more feverish, the links between personal and political spooling out to a worrisome soundtrack of YouTube clips of Goldman Sachs bankers and torture victims. It is nakedly schematic, laying out the woes of the world in childish black and white, but there is something quietly urgent about Ryckewaert's commitment to her task. It's her future she's writing about, after all.