4 STARS, showing until Apr 8. Seventeen is a touching and poignant drama about a group of school kids on the cusp of adulthood, all played by adult actors. Richard Davies remained enthralled throughout
Matthew Whittet’s Seventeen is a play about a bunch of schoolkids hanging out in a swing park after their last examination. They do all the stuff that teenagers typically do – “get s***-faced”, swear a lot, complain about their parents and insult each other. But what’s different here is that all the characters are played by middle aged actors.
Unlike Dennis Potter’s “Blue Remembered Hills” which similarly cast grown-ups as 7 year-olds to reveal how the cruelties of childhood leave scars on adult lives, Seventeen is a more tender treatment of how on the cusp of adulthood, life is already starting to run away from you and suddenly we are young no more.
All of the characters will remind you of people from your own childhood. Mike is good looking and confident, the leader of the gang. Although he hates school, somehow he knows that life will never be this good again. Mike goes out with beautiful Jess, whose dysfunctional home life with her alcoholic mother may get in the way of her dreams of travelling the world. Jess’s best friend is Emilia, so mature and sensible that she’s almost matronly. Jess calls her the “frigid princess” though in fact “Em” has a secret love, who’s not the person that everyone expects it to be.
Mike’s best friend is Tom, who is kind and sensitive. Tom’s about to leave for Bristol with his family and where he hopes to go to University if he gets the grades. Then there’s Mike’s younger sister Lizzie, bright and sparky who will do anything to be accepted by the older kids. And finally, Ronny, the sad loser who no one wants to know, even his parents. He sleeps in the park after a bust up with his Dad.
In common with many teenagers, the characters live their lives in a rarefied state of emotional intensity that at times is hard to follow – like watching an episode of Skins on fast forward. But there are some very touching moments, such as when Jess confesses to Tom, “I’m only gonna be 18, but I feel like I can already see how everything’s going to be.”
The young lives are changed forever by two kisses. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you who kisses who and why and with what consequence. But it tells you how absorbed I was by this strangely recreated teenage world that I found both scenes deeply moving.
There are some fine performances from the cast. I particularly enjoyed the performances Sarah Ball and Mike Grady in the supporting roles of Lizzie and Ronny. Credits are also due to designer Tom Scutt whose infinity loop climbing apparatus and swing park set provides a superb visual metaphor for life, as well as an exciting frame for the actors to use space creatively.
The play was written and first performed at the Belvoir Downstairs in Sydney Australia. My main criticism is that some of the attempts to translate the script to a London setting feel slightly clunky, like a panto script customised with a few local references. As such, the play sometimes feels that it’s set anywhere and nowhere. But don’t let that stop you from going to see it. It will make you feel young again.
- Seventeen is at the Lyric until April 8. For tickets visit lyric.co.uk
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