Manchester Theatre Awards

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

Youth Panel Review: 15 Minutes

Contact Young Company/Action Hero
Contact Young Company
Contact Theatre
26 July 2017 to 29 July 2017

Contact Young Company's last show, There is a Light, was a searing and deeply touching exploration of the impact of cancer on young lives. How to follow that? Why, with something completely different, of course: 15 Minutes is an abstract collection of musings on fame, self-expression and art history. Andy Warhol is the inspiration, with his much-quoted assertion that one day we would all be famous for just that period. Nowadays, thanks to social media and reality TV, we can be – but what do fame and celebrity even mean?

 

The company – 15 of them, appropriately enough – start off in the conceptual world of Warhol's workshop. But rather than focusing on the unique visual language Warhol developed in his prints, it's the language of celebrity that we're talking. Everyone is watching and being watched, whether in a press interview, the fan-mobbing of an idolised figure, lifestyle vlogs complete with product placement, or the repetitive announcement of every activity as if posting about it on social media: "Hi, this is Charlie, and I'm brushing my teeth."

 

Warhol's world-famous image is central: his enigmatic face flashes up on screens amid the cast, and everyone gets a go at wearing the shaggy blonde wig and dark glasses. The cast pick up cameras and start to replace his face with their own, seamlessly becoming the directors of their own marketing campaigns. Smoothly integrating multiple live video feeds is no mean feat, and it fits perfectly into the celeb-stalking, image-crafting world we've entered.

 

As we snap disjointedly from segment to segment, the ideas are sometimes too abstract and flimsy to bear all the weight put on them. There's more than one earnest speech about how fame isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be, plus an overlong 'inspirational' ending. The idea that celebrity has its downsides is presented as a surprising new revelation, although it's a concept as old as celebrity itself. And the personal touch is missing in all this conceptual musing – it leaves the whole thing with a central emptiness, as hollow as the celebrity personas we're watching.

 

However, this is an enjoyable journey into the places where art, culture and media meet. A solemn poem constructed from advertising slogans is delivered with breathtaking sensitivity and poise by one of the young cast: her every syllable twinkles with the subtlest combination of optimism and sarcasm. Other performers are hilarious in seemingly improvised scenes, coming up with long lists of ideas that go from plausible to ridiculous and back again. Contact Young Company are as slick, funny, and effervescent as ever – but after the heartfelt beauty and political urgency of There is a Light, this show seems a little too caught up in its own cleverness at times, despite not having as much to say.

Reviewer: Lizz Clark