Manchester Theatre Awards

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Youth Panel Review: The Changing Room

Chris Bush
Lowry Young Company
The Lowry
20 March 2018 to 21 March 2018

Midway through The Changing Room, we are casually informed by a performer that, yes, our suspicions are correct: the summer, the swimming pool, and the changing room itself are all a big metaphor for the teenage years. This gleeful embracing of cliché is typical of Chris Bush's play, which is a poetic exploration of the in-between-ness of teenage life, dotted with music and comedy. There's a lot of familiar stuff here: body insecurities, trying to get into clubs, uncertain sexuality, embarrassing dads. But the script's disjointed structure and interludes of choral speaking are more challenging, and give the Lowry Young Company something to chew on.

The 19 young performers tackle it all with grace and composure, even when the more poetic moments tend towards the cryptic. Director Joe England has drawn out a good dose of comedy from the script, but lyrical sections could have been tackled with more confidence - sometimes the meaning of the poetry is muddled or lost. The songs are performed by cast members, who capture the upbeat theatricality in Are We Nearly There Yet? just as well as the contemplative sadness in a later number about growing out of swimming and family dynamics. This song, a moment of quiet simplicity where we focus on the singer's voice and the poignant lyrics, is the most touching moment of the show.

Some fun bells and whistles keep the performance varied as the scene constantly changes. There are moving changing-room stalls which go through various configurations, complete with curtains to be dramatically whisked aside, and props like an inflatable flamingo or a giant pair of sunglasses, as interchangeable as aspects of teenage identity. The cast inhabit each scene, however short, with the same enthusiastic energy, and show off a range of performance styles from naturalistic to grandstanding. And they hit the clichés head-on, delivering them with truth and conviction: after all, they're clichéd for a reason.

Every adult was a teenager once - so the young people of The Changing Room keep reminding us, asking for a bit of patience from the adults around them. But this is the strangest thing about the play: its fixation on the adult-teen relationship. Don't these teens have individual hopes and fears, outside their desire to be treated fairly by their parents? It's hard to find this out when we spend so little time with each character or scene. As an exploration of adolescent frustrations, The Changing Room stays paddling in the shallow end, playing with ideas without diving into character. It's an enjoyable time, but what a shame we don't get to explore further depths.

Reviewer: Lizz Clark