Teens have had a rough time lately, and Alecky Blythe’s literal epic Our generationcompiled from over 600 hours of interviews with 12 young people over the past five years, makes an ambitious attempt to convey an indescribable sense of what it means to be young in Britain.
The stories range from Birmingham to Glasgow, from Belfast to South London. There’s brash, celebrity-obsessed siblings Ayesha and Ali, whose family is rocked by tragedy; the privately raised Emily, who is busy becoming a tutor; and confident, popular Annabella, who is struggling with a tumultuous relationship with her mother.
Blythe assembles and arranges these interviews like a conductor, and there’s certainly something musical about how certain moments break and accentuate others. Our generation is at its best and most compelling when Blythe manages to contrast disparate experiences over a common hurdle like bogus GCSEs or high school graduation: Where the bright, precocious Robyn takes a job at a chicken shop and dreams of studying screenplay, the anxious public schoolboy Lucas thinks aimlessly contemplating driving around Europe on his gap year.
While Our generation is captivating and sensitively curated, it lacks depth – instead it sails along with the self-transmission of the teenagers involved, hoping that the banality of everyday life will create depth. And it feels at its most mundane when Blythe attempts to explore various loosely constructed “issues” such as the impact of social media, self-image and Covid. It’s not the kids that are the problem – they are dynamic and endearing in their mix of supernatural maturity and adolescence – but the openness of the concept, which meanders through the whopping three hours and 40 minutes running time. When tragedy enters their lives, one feels a morbid, uncomfortable fascination that challenges the ethical considerations of literal theater.
Director Daniel Evans coaxes some fine performances from his cast: Helder Fernandes as Luan, the cheeky basketball player, is relaxed and proud; and Rachel Diedericks as Ierum, a sweet girl who is body conscious is a delicate, delicate presence with a surprisingly steely core. The adults in the company are also amazingly lithe performers, acting as stuffy teachers and concerned parents, switching accents on the fly. Hasan Dixon is particularly outstanding as Luan’s whimsical father.
Evans keeps his production fairly stripped down and lets the voices take center stage, but the show’s occasional, more salient points are hackneyed in their execution: a rhythmic movement section meant to examine teens’ trust in their phones is undeniably cheesy, and the moment in which the ensemble sings an acapella cover of the dated fun. Song “Some Nights” feels like a choice that was obviously made by adults, rather than something organic for teenagers.
Vicki Mortimer’s elegant design gives the impression of a clean slate, and Akhila Krishnan’s free video projections scrawling chalk drawings on the Dorfman’s back panel are impressive, if underused. Our generation is an experiment that, despite being piloted by some phenomenally safe performances, collapses under its own weight.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/our-generation-dorfman-theatre-b2027583.html Our generational throwback: Alecky Blythe’s verbatim epic struggles in its attempt to capture what it means to be young in Britain