Thursday, 4 October 2007

Chatroom & Citizenship - WYP & Tour

Chatroom & Citizenship by Edna Walsh/Mark Ravenhill
West Yorkshire Playhouse 2nd-6th October, then on Tour
Directed by: Anna Mackmin
Music by: Paddy Cunneen
Reviewed by Linda Taylor

I am not sure if I am the right reviewer for these plays as both were first performed as part of The National Theatre Connections in 2005 and are targeted at a young audience in their late teens or early twenties. I don’t fit into that category and I am only reassured by the fact the writers and director of the shows don’t fit in to that category either. So, do Chatroom & Citizenship speak to their intended audience? Judging from the whoops and cheers at the curtain call they certainly do.

Both plays aim to target specific emotional concerns of mid to late teen-agers. Chatroom deals with the power dynamics and the possibilities of abuse contained in virtual, on line relationships, while Citizenship is concerned with sexual identity and responsibility. Both plays strike to the heart of their subject matter and the quick fire wit and dialogue of the writing is matched confidently by Anna Mackmin’s fast paced directorial style. Both plays tell their stories through social spaces which lie outside of ‘adult’ control, and it is in these spaces, in school corridors and in on line chat rooms, that social masks are dropped and insecurities exposed. Mackmin deals expertly with the story of Jim, a character in Chatroom with suicidal tendencies. Most of Chatroom is directed with the characters sat in blinding white light speaking out to a dark auditorium to suggest they are chatting on line. A striking intimacy is achieved when this convention is dropped, the blinding spotlights dim and Jim speaks directly to the audience about how he feels. The eloquence of this moment is due to a well-judged balance of scenographic effect and a remarkable performance by Steven Webb as Jim, whose performance sensitively locates Jim’s bravery and vulnerability without ever veering towards sentimentality. Webb’s is indeed the standout performance of Chatroom and balances the slightly caricatured performances that open the show.

Chatroom and Citizenship represent teenagers from different class backgrounds. The audience leap from a world dominated by a young articulate middle class in Chatroom to a world dominated by the white British underclass in Citizenship. It is difficult now to use the word working class as Ravenhill himself indicates in his Guardian column of October 1st. In Citizenship language is hijacked from black culture and stranger still, characters appear to be imitating Ali G who is himself a white man imitating a black man. Many of the same actors are in both plays and move dextrously from the use of queens English in Chatroom to the slang of Citizenship, from the physical reserve of Chatroom to a world where communication is largely expressed through gesture, humour and overt sexuality. It is the companionship of the two plays, the fact that we see these two worlds which sit side by side in a kind of apartied in our culture, placed side by side to be judged one against the other on the same evening at the theatre, which makes Chatroom & Citizenship a fascinating evening for anyone interested in contemporary culture and a must for the intended audience.

Photos by Johan Persson: Top Pic - Chatroom and shows Simone James (Laura), Jade Williams (Eva), George Rainsford (William). Bottom Pic - Citezenship and shows Michelle Tate (Amy), Ashley Rolfe (Tom), Simone James (Alicia), Jaimi Barbakoff (Chantal)

Chatroom & Citezenship is on tour throughout the country for further information visit
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