Manchester Theatre Awards

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Youth Panel Review: #YOLO

Matthew Bulgo
The Blue Coat School
29 April 2017

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We find out in #YOLO, as Jack gets his A Level results and a hospital appointment, and teenage exuberance collides with a cancer diagnosis. Jack can't bring himself to tell his friends, and lashes out, drinks, picks a fight – anything but deal with the terrible news.

It's a difficult task for the company, playing out their mounting frustrations as Jack's avoidance tactics get more and more desperate. There are a few failures in this: for instance, the party scene that follows Jack's diagnosis is overlong, full of aimless chatter and feels pointless. A fight between the male friends could have been bittersweet – we all know friend drama can be both funny and sad – but mostly ends up falling flat.

Scenes involving Jack's sister, who is also his guardian, are bright spots in this dull landscape. The actress portrays the stress and fatigue of young-adult life and a carer's responsibilities with subtle skill. Her performance outshines Jack's: unfortunately we don't get enough sense of his inner struggle to make sense of his selfish and cruel behaviour. There's an attempt to add humour with the character of Jack's best friend, but this backfires by making their friendship seem shallow and inexplicable.

Musical transitions between scenes are ably provided by an onstage band and vocalist. The songs are well-chosen, pop classics of the last few years; sung beautifully by Imogen Sleith, they provide a breath of fresh air. It's an original touch to have a 'house band' who make these well-known tunes their own, underpinning the scenes they soundtrack with much-needed emotional clout.

It's needed, as some directorial decisions undercut the power of the story, including a baffling scene transition involving slow-motion walking and dropping bits of paper onto the stage. It's unclear what this is intended to symbolise. It's tone-deaf to have the actor playing Jack's oncologist reappear in the next scene as a drunken partygoer, changing only his jacket. And while the band impressively thunders out Pretender by the Foo Fighters during a key scene of Jack's breakdown, the stylised movement set to the music feels half-hearted in comparison.

The Blue Coat are brave to tackle #YOLO, but I'm not sure their bravery pays off. The music may be compelling, but in terms of direction, this production misses more notes than it hits.

Reviewer: Lizz Clark