In a darkly entertaining contradiction to the light-hearted escape usually offered by children’s theatre, Olly Hawes’s 21 Futures not only lets in the outside world but places its problems at the feet of the parents of the new generations. The incisive writing, dripping with sarcasm, is passionately performed by the young cast of 16- to 18-year-olds, creating a production that is as humorous as it is uncomfortable. The audience are purposefully left with a bitter taste in their mouths because the satire acts as a mirror, forcing the older generation to face their failings and the consequences that these have for their children.
21 Futures explores a variety of current world issues through parody and satire, punctuated by small bursts of song. From climate change to capitalism, gender politics to white privilege, no stone is left unturned and no person is left guiltless, including the teenagers themselves. Hawes’s writing is the result of extensive collaboration with the members of the Macready Theatre Square Pegs Young Actors’ Company through workshops, and so the play presents a fresh young perspective to which each and every performer is engaged and committed.
The show pushes the boundaries of conventional theatre in its use of direct address, forcing the audience to accept its role in the dystopian future unfolding onstage. The use of music and sound also pulls in the audience by producing an immersive, sometimes claustrophobic experience. This is best demonstrated by the violent release of single-use plastics from the ceiling, which is accompanied by recordings of famous climate change figures, such as Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough, and the unnerving dissonance of the pianist stroking the strings inside his piano.
A key theme of the play is repetition and cycles: initially used to hilariously parody adults’ treatment of teenage issues, the motif evolves to communicate the inescapable, damaging cycle in which both adults and children alike are trapped. Although intensely symbolic, the motif of repetition is overused; at times it detracts from the power and emotion of the play. However, the cyclical nature of the play is very effective at showing how inevitable the dystopian future portrayed is, most notably when movements from the beginning are repeated at the end of the play, but with different dialogue.
21 Futures is a highly provocative piece of new writing that opens up a much-needed discourse between teenagers and their parents. Intelligent, dry satire provides a perfect foundation from which the young performers’ of the Macready Theatre reproach the older generation, leaving the audience with a clear and purposefully uncomfortable message: they should have done better.
21 Futures is on at King Dome @ Pleasance Dome
At 11am until August 17th
Buy tickets here
Image: Kyle Arrowsmith