Monday, 25 June 2012

Theatre: A Healing Medium

Saira Khan, Young Journalist, Reviews Victim, Sidekick, Boyfriend, Me by Hilary Bell at Day 4 of Connections at the NT

I found myself in a dark space, furnished with white, haphazardly shaped cubes. Around me resonated the voice of a girl frustrated and defiant, followed by chorusing replies and taunts. The atmosphere was both intense and composed. In front, I saw 16 people dressed in black surrounding her.

I then saw a man handing out cups of coffee to lighting and sound engineers, heard the rustling of a chocolate wrapper and the quiet giggles of one of the crew. I had found myself backstage at the National Theatre, witnessing the 7th play of this year’s Connections Festival.

Victim Sidekick Boyfriend Me is a play about a Girl (Amy Weaver) who is responsible for the death or disappearance of a certain Victim (Jenna Blenkinsop). The Girl is let off uncharged and, when the Victim’s Boyfriend (James Martin) takes her into a Christian youth hostel, she is met with unending forgiveness. At first, she takes this for granted but soon their forgiveness becomes intolerable and she longs for atonement or punishment. They sought to reveal her heartlessness in showing that she accepted the easy way out, and they forced her to feel.

Victim, Sidekick, Boyfriend, Me. Photo: Simon Annand
The professionalism, musicianship and acting of the ~17 year olds of Marine Academy Plymouth was astonishing. Even when the guitar fell slightly off key and the dancing was slightly out of time, it only made the whole production more entertaining. The naturalness of some parts of the performance made the audience feel at ease, laughing at the odd quirky disco moves.

The atmosphere backstage was fun, with jokes, friendly prompting, and the vocal coach making the actors use imaginary vacuum cleaners to clean the stage and impersonate Janice from the television series Friends. But it was always clear the actors took their roles and this opportunity very seriously. They had been practising all day and only had time for a quick lunch – whilst being hassled by journalists -- before finding themselves on stage in a prestigious, and sold out, theatre room.
When asked if she found any part of her character difficult to portray, Amy Weaver replied ‘I struggled to put across the journey from a powerful person to a broken one’. However, on stage, that pervious struggle was impossible to discern. She perfectly embodied the character of the Girl, who, as playwright Hilary Bell put it, ‘cracks and becomes a human being’ towards the end of the play. She reveals this was not only the hardest part to act, but to write, too.

Bell’s intent was to highlight the lack of compassion in today’s society and with crime so easy at hand, she shows us what it costs not to own up to our wrongs. The play explores the themes of forgiveness and revenge, but also accountability. Hilary Bell, although a successful playwright in Australia, told that she had never written for young people before, or so many. 

When asked the difference between writing for younger actors as opposed to more experienced ones, she said ‘acting is like a marathon; those who have experience know how to pace themselves’. Nonetheless, she felt the Marine Academy Plymouth were true to the spirit of the play and loved their enthusiasm. She highlighted that there is great responsibility in a Festival such as this, where the vulnerability of young actors must be taken into account. Not only are they being challenged, but they are also being completely submerged into a world of fiction which they may invariably relate to their own lives.

Victim, Sidekick, Boyfriend, Me. Photo: Simon Annand
Connections is not just beneficial for the young actors in boosting their CVs, it is, as Bell put it, a ‘healing medium’ and a way for them to express themselves. But what is interesting is that it is just as beneficial, new, exciting and challenging for the actors, as it is for the playwright, crew and audience. Connections encourages so many people to be involved in the exposure of fresh talent to the world.

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