Review | Our Generation at Minerva Theatre, Chichester: 'I did not want to say goodbye'

Who would want to be a teenager again?

By James Butler
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 9:20 am

Stressed, hormonal and wading through a quagmire of identity issues and life choices that will shape who you are forever.

Oh, and all this while coping with bad skin and dodgy haircuts.

It is one aspect of life all adults can relate to – yet we all have our own unique stories to tell.

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The company of Our Generation. Picture by Johan Persson

And playwright Alecky Blythe has done just that with Our Generation, recording the lives of 12 teenagers over the span of five years, changing their names and weaving their experiences together to create a gripping tapestry of modern life.

The dialogue is entirely verbatim: 656 hours’ worth of interviews condensed into three and a half hours of theatre.

So with a running time like that (and two intervals) I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog.

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But once I acclimatised to the stutters, filler words and other patterns of normal speech, I was hooked.

The 12 children represent the spectrum of British society, from cheeky Londoner Luan who dreams of becoming a professional basketball player to Mia from Wales whose father is in prison and sibling double-act Ayesha and Ali from Birmingham who love selfies and celebrity culture yet face unimaginable pain when their youngest sister is hospitalised in a drive-by shooting.

Knowing the provenance of these stories heightens every emotion: each joke cracked is that much funnier, each tear shed all the more gut-wrenching.

But the ‘real’ dialogue was only half the reason for this. Each performer not only memorised their lines, but the exact intonation and pronunciation of the original recording – a painstaking effort that paid off in spades.

It is testament to the ensemble cast that I struggled to imagine the words belonging to anyone but them.

The chronology of the play as the teens progress through school, work and college is interspersed with their thoughts on topics such as self-image, mobile phones and the future.

Landmark events also punctuate the action, including Brexit, Trump’s election, and – of course – the pandemic, which strikes when many are about to start university.

In a fitting reflection of the real lives on show, there was no neat ending, no wrapping up plot lines and character arcs in a pretty bow.

But the biggest compliment I can pay this production is that despite having sat through more than 200 minutes, I realised as the characters posed for one final photo together that I did not want to say goodbye.

A thoroughly-deserved standing ovation.

Until May 14.