Manchester Theatre Awards

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Youth Panel Review: Zero for the Young Dudes!

Alistair McDowall
Blackpool Grand Young Company
The Lowry
02 April 2017

A summer camp with a difference: instead of Hawaiian shirts, there are dull grey tracksuits, and instead of poolside lounging, firing-ranges and lessons in political ideology. Zero for the Young Dudes! gives us a Britain where the young have rebelled against the old, but been brutally defeated and corralled into camps, forced to perform hard labour and do terrible things to survive. But could there be another revolution coming?

The Blackpool Grand Young Company invite us into the dull, utilitarian world of their camp, where regulation grey boxes are the only features in a barren landscape, and the inhabitants' faces are masks of dread, sullen resignation, suspicion, and hatred. Everything is punctuated by barked exercise drills, time in solitary confinement, and the ever-present menace of the guards.

A digital clock, a huge projection on the back of the stage, may just be displaying the time, but it's also counting down to something: a plan that begins to emerge out of seemingly unconnected scenes. Some of these scenes fall flatter than they should, with performances needing more thought and intention, a better sense of pace, or just more volume. And a few times there are issues with staging: political conversations in the canteen are difficult to follow, for instance, as the actors are stationed on rows of seats, side-on to the audience and masking each other. But the story is carried along with a decent sense of pace and tension.

Unfortunately, technical aspects of the production let it down at times, and particularly in a moment when we should feel all the pain and indignation of the camp's wronged inmates. A lighting effect that shows them covered in blood, yet standing tall and determined, is completely out-of-sync with what has come before. The incongruity lessens the power of the image. Another confusing technical choice was the use of upbeat 'lift music' to accompany several of the scenes. Perhaps the intention was to contrast the chirpy soundtrack with the grim reality of the camp, but this was simply distracting.

Moments of dark humour could have been drawn out a little more in order to convey the contradictions of life as a teenaged prisoner-of-war. But the awkwardness, the squabbling, and the fierce anger and pride of the young revolutionaries were well explored by the young cast. This was an enjoyable production of Zero for the Young Dudes! in which the ensemble worked together competently to tell an engaging story.

Reviewer: Lizz Clark