Our Generation at the National Theatre
Cutting together over 600 hours of material, gathered over the course of five years while interviewing 12 adolescents from various backgrounds as they grew into adulthood, Our Generation is an impressive undertaking. Alecky Blythe is, of course, well-known for verbatim theatre, and this piece stands on equal footing with her earlier work. It is important to be cautious in ascribing too much “reality” to this sort of play: reducing 600 hours to a mere three hours and 45 minutes – including two intervals – necessarily means that the themes, talking points and bits of dialogue are cut together massively to fit the playwright’s vision. Nevertheless, the words were spoken by real people, the heartfelt moments are genuine and the result is a wonderful collage of snapshot insights into the lives of numerous youngsters.
The play’s greatest strength is its ability to demonstrate the humanity of each of the 12 characters. They are all likeable, their motives understandable, and it is difficult not to get swept away by their troubles, their travels and their dreams. This is especially the case thanks to an immensely charismatic cast; all 15 performers – three of whom play adult characters – are strong, and deliver their lines charmingly.
But the large number of characters is also the show’s weakness. Even with such a lengthy runtime, 12 central characters feel overwhelming and one would hope for a greater emphasis on individual journeys; it remains a somewhat shallower portrayal of many lives, rather than an in-depth exploration of just a few. As such, it sometimes feels rather reminiscent of the Up series and its documentary style, though of course more deftly constructed.
This hardly deters from the fact that Our Generation is still highly engaging on the stage, rather than as a documentary, in part also thanks to director Daniel Evans’s great production. The project successfully highlights and emphasises the material that’s close to these children’s hearts – initially worries over GCSEs, friends, social media and peer pressure, but of course the impact of the pandemic and Brexit also make an appearance and demonstrate how quickly – and easily – times can change and perhaps feel a little less safe than initially thought. This is hardly a perfect play, but it is lovingly made and enjoyable throughout, making it a solid recommendation.
Photos: Johan Persson
Our Generation is at the National Theatre from 23rd February until 9th April 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for the production here: