Summer on Stage 2015

July 19, 2015 | By | Reply More

Mancub: ✭✭✭✩✩    Complex

The Children: ✭✭✭✭✩    Stylish

Lyceum Theatre: Fri 17/Sat 18 July 2015

Children are at the heart of both the drama and the performance of this year’s Summer on Stage double bill, but the Lyceum Youth Theatre are anything but childish in their delivery.

LYT find strong and sensitive performances for both Mancub by Douglas Maxwell and The Children by Edward Bond, plays which explore dark and often difficult issues.

Confrontation in The Children. Photo: Alexander Van Der Byl

Confrontation in The Children. Photo: Alexander Van Der Byl

Mancub, adapted by Maxwell from John Levert’s novel The Flight of the Cassowary, sees 16 year-old Paul dealing with the increasing traumas of teenage life by drawing into himself and, he believes, taking on the form of various beasts.

As the beasts become increasingly problematic and intrusive, it becomes a brilliantly conceived metaphor for all the turbulent emotions of that age. It draws you into Paul’s world and blurs the line between fantasy and reality as he returns to school after a lazy summer holidays.

Originally written as a three hander for Vanishing Point, and premiering at the Traverse in 2005, the LYT production under Xana Marwick’s direction, widens the script out for an ensemble cast of 26 – while adding judicious little updates to the lines to keep it contemporary.

It’s an interesting and generally successful move. The young cast bring some great performances to the stage and explore both the comic and the darker sides of the script.

Alexander Levi is very well cast as Paul, giving a judicious combination of naivety, bewilderment and anger to the central role. There is a real truth to his anger at his parents (Agnia Naumova and Sam Wood) but compassion for his younger brother (Max Lauder).

standout performance

But it is in his relationships outside the home that the production takes off. Notably with Paul’s girlfriend, Karen. Emma Gribbon is the standout performance here, balancing between Paul’s overawed perception of her and a truer persona: slightly more mature, but still negotiating the same teenage tribulations.

Carson Ritchie also uses the room given to him to expand on the role of Paul’s best pal Jerry, who has his own very real problems, both with his bullying dad and his own mental health.

It is in the more comedic roles that the success of the expansion of the play is most apparent. Freya Groves works the role of biology teacher Fideles, making him a figure of fun while finding humanity and spite there, too.

Max Hampson makes the unenviable role of Ken the Dog, with whom Paul believes he can communicate, completely believable. And Lachlan White finds humanity in Jerry’s dotty granny.

There’s great power to the ensemble scenes, too. With a nice physicality to the football games, in particular, where Paul’s efforts in goals ultimately lead to unforgivable excesses in his reverse anthropomorphism.

The change in cast size is not entirely successful however. What could be tight and speedy with a minimal set, is made too complex and becomes bogged down with seemingly interminable scene changes and use of live video which doesn’t seem relevant at all. The fast pace can slow, too, without really crisp timing as so many different voices batter back and forth.

The Children

The older group of LYT participants take on Edward Bond’s 1999 play, The Children which was written specifically for teenagers to play, although with two parts for adult actors.

The Children follows a gang of youngsters who leave home after a calamity which falls on one of their number, Jo, when she is coerced by her mother into setting fire to a house on the nearby new estate. Far from being empty, a young boy is still in the house and burned alive.

Caitlin Mitchard gives an appropriately neutral telling to the central role of Jo. Troubled with an absent father and a mother given to drink to dull the ache of her job, Jo finds solace and companionship in a life-size child puppet which she drags around, but which she is trying to abandon.

When her mother’s emotional blackmail forces her to carry out the fire-raising, Jo tells her gang of friends and, to cement their complicity, they ritually brick the puppet to death.

apocalyptic event

It’s this central act which echoes through the complex and bleak plot, as the children go on the run – while the world around seems to have suffered some kind of apocalyptic event.

The Children - Photo: Alexander Van Der Byl

The Children – Photo: Alexander Van Der Byl

Jenny Barron excels in the difficult role of Mum, finding all the pain, anguish and brutal anger towards her daughter, which is necessary to make the plot stand up. Keir Gowan has less to do as the other usually adult role of Man, the stranger the children find on their route and decide to help in their compassion, but ensures that his own key place in the plot stands up.

Director Christie O’Carroll uses her 30-strong cast excellently, creating first a pack of seemingly feral children, who find a humanity and then fear as their number begins to dwindle.

There are complex issues at work here, as food and consumables become free, but the children’s once-simple knee-jerk response needs to learn morality in order for them to survive. And as the final twists of the plot become apparent, the cast achieve a breath-stopping sense of an impending doom.

It is a brilliant but bleak production which reminds you quite why Edward Bond has such a strong reputation as a playwright, and questions why his plays are not more-performed.

Running time 2 hours 45 mins (one interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Friday 17/Saturday 18 July 2015
7.30 pm
Details and tickets: http://lyceum.org.uk/

Purchase the scripts from Amazon:

ENDS

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