Connections Festival 2019: Variations and Flesh at the National Theatre
Variations by Katie Hims and Flesh by Rob Drummond are the first shows in this year’s nationwide youth theatre festival Connections, which commissions playwrights to create work specifically for youth theatre. With two new plays featuring every night during its course, the event offers a rich pool of work from organisations across the country, with participants involved in all areas of production.
Variations follows Alice (Jazmine Mayor), a 13-year-old schoolgirl who travels through alternate universes in a Groundhog Day-like scenario to overcome family conflict and achieve self-discovery. The piece features comical dialogue and various dance scenes in a relatively naturalistic setting. It’s well acted but as scenes start to repeat and jokes are retold characters begin to feel like stereotypes. The drama is whimsical and at times disengaging, but light-hearted in its portrayal of children in a modern family.
The second production of the night, Flesh, is vastly different from Variations. The show strays from strict naturalism and presents intervals of spoken word accompanied by live singing and pre-recorded music. The play portrays the story of two stranded groups of children with memory loss who turn on each other in order to survive. As events escalate and hunger takes over the children resort to cruelty and eventually cannibalism. The vibrant performance styles in the piece are engaging, and again, strong acting helps the pace of the story. However, Flesh, much like Variations, presents problems with its writing.
In both productions, characters feel stilted, and the dialogue feels at times forced and stereotypical, using clichéd “millennial” references to youth. Both shows at points seem less like youth theatre but instead works that pander to a middle-aged audience through outdated slang and jokes about phones. However, both exhibit varying degrees of promise. Without a doubt, Connections’ first night presents an array of vastly different work and the beginning of an important display of young talent. In times when the arts are being underfunded and cut in our schooling system, youth theatre plays a vital role in bringing work to a new generation and allowing them to engage in live storytelling. Connections is a fantastic opportunity for young people, and this year’s instalment appears set to showcase their talent and determination.
Photos: The Other Richard
Connections Festival 2019 is at the National Theatre from 25th June until 29th June 2019. Applications are now open to take part in next year’s Connections Festival. The National Theatre is looking for 300 school and youth theatre companies across the UK to take part. For further information or to book or sign up visit the website here.
Watch the trailer for the Connections Festival 2019 here: