Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Youth Panel Review: #YOLO

Matthew Bulgo
The Lowry
02 April 2017

Seeing a play entitled #YOLO on The Lowry’s NT Connections programme did not initially inspire me with confidence. But Matthew Bulgo’s piece – performed here by CYGNETS – belies its trendy social media-inspired title by focussing on Jack, a teenager who is diagnosed with a brain tumour on his A Level results day.

The diagnosis scene happens very early on, and Jack spends most of the play avoiding communication with his friends and family. This is symbolised through the use of a loud indie music soundtrack, which plays whenever Jack puts headphones over his ears – shutting out reality, and cleverly putting the audience inside his head.

In spite of this, Jack is often a silent presence onstage. A lot of Bulgo’s script is devoted not to Jack’s illness and its consequences, but to the antics of his friends, which are often amusing but have little relevance to the central plot line.

There is a fair sprinkling of “young people” clichés too, including group selfies, drunken vomiting and theatrical break ups, but overall the CYGNET cast do seem comfortable with the material. They work together well as an ensemble, performing with confidence and demonstrating great comic timing.

 Ultimately though, the dark and emotive subject matter is the most impactful aspect of #YOLO. The scene when Jack is on his own at the beach, listening to music and getting progressively more drunk, may be a tad over long but is convincingly performed.

Much like The Snow Dragons, #YOLO ends on a darkly ambiguous note, with Jack waiting in the hospital ward surrounded by his friends. Although the outcome of his imminent operation is unknown, there is hope – a relevant message for our times and for all those suffering from illness.



Reviewer: Georgina Wells


Comment by Lizz Clark

I'm all for youth theatre on serious themes - even cancer, that dreaded 'C-word'. It was brilliantly explored by Contact Young Company in their recent show There is a Light (reviewed by us here), which brought together the embarrassing, ridiculous and painful aspects of a cancer 'journey'.

#YOLO is a different show, with many of the same themes but a far more personal focus on the central character's emotional struggle following cancer diagnosis. His bottled-up fear and anger are portrayed well by the young actor, whose performance is at once blank-faced and emotive. We can tell that Jack is struggling to keep his composure despite the mounting pressure of his medical situation. If things get awkward, he blasts his music and walks away - a realistic touch.

However, Jack's masculine repression means that we spend a lot of time listening to his friends chatter on obliviously while he's silently fretting in a corner. As Georgina says, when not delivered with the snappiness required, these scenes feel dull and unnecessary. And while some of the cultural references are on-the-nail (Mr. Brightside is the teen anthem of the last ten years), others are clangingly bad (unfortunately for writer Matthew Bulgo, YOLO was a short-lived catchphrase and is long dead in slang terms).

The final, hopeful scene is mostly without dialogue and yet carries real emotional weight. The same goes for the moment when Jack's composure cracks as he drinks and dances alone on the beach. It's a shame that the more dialogue-heavy scenes couldn't live up to these memorable silences.