“I and You”: A misreading of Youth Culture? Or fear of social marginalisation?

‘Maisie Williams is terrific’ | ★★★★ The Times
‘Recommended most heartily’ | ★★★★ Daily Mail

‘Maisie Williams makes a punchy stage debut’ | ★★★★ The Mail on Sunday
‘A joyous, well-crafted evening’ | ★★★★ WhatsOnStage

 

Img: Time Out London

 

“‘I and You’ is a witty and uplifting portrayal of friendship, youth and living life to the full” proclaims the Hampstead Theatre’s website. 

Undoubtedly after reading the endless praise surrounding this long-awaited production’s UK debut, ROAR was anxious to access this piece of Youth Theatre: one that was capable of such roaring accolades. Lauren Gunderson was, after Shakespeare, the most produced playwright in America last year. Not only this, the production is anticipated with high regard in the UK after winning the prestigious American Theatre Critics Association’s New Play Award.

Therefore, upon entering the theatre with such great expectations, we were disappointingly underwhelmed by the play’s delivery, content and performance for the entire first half.

Housebound because of illness, Caroline hasn’t been to school in months. Confined to her room, she has only Facebook for company. That is until classmate Anthony bursts in – uninvited and armed with waffle fries, a scruffy copy of Walt Whitman’s poetry and a school project due in the next day… Caroline is unimpressed all round.

But an unlikely friendship develops and a seemingly mundane piece of homework starts to reveal the pair’s hopes and dreams – as well as a deep and mysterious bond that connects them even further. 

 

Img: Muriel Harland @ Evening Standard

 

We are introduced to the protagonists (Williams and Wyatt) in a painfully obvious way: abruptly from the outset, the lights go up as Williams and Wyatt engage in a screaming match full of slang and teenage vernacular: seemingly the colloquialism with which it is assumed our generation speaks. My peers and I observed that the use of vocabulary seemed in direct congruence with how the older generation stereotypically viewed the young, almost as if the elderly were attempting to puppeteer a youth narrative. This did seem an odd dimension, as Gunderson is only 36 years old herself-hardly an O.A.P. 

However, the cringe-y and obvious references to American Youth culture continued on: Pop-Tarts, Emojis, junk food and Twitter. Upon initial viewing, the abundance of stereotypes screamingly implied a narrow-minded and blinkered view of youth culture. However in retrospect, perhaps this was the point…

Significantly marginalised from society, Caroline is entrapped by her illness and hemmed-in to her little room, her “whole world”: William’s character primarily wields the vernacular of the American ‘Teen’ stereotype. Perhaps then, rather than a total misreading of Youth Culture, Gunderson’s deployment of the ‘Teen’ stereotype is a subtle and clever attempt to demonstrate the danger of social disengagement and fear of marginalisation that debilitating illness carries with it.

Furthermore, with such views in mind, the play seemed to accumulate depth and meaning as it moved into the second half. As Williams and Wyatt seem to grow accustomed to their placement on the stage, their performances begin to flow with more ease, and the clunkiness and heavy-handling of the dialogue that was prevalent at the start, falls away: I like to think that this is as the director intended. 

As the handling of the play’s delivery becomes unencumbered and undeniably lighter, the subject matter seems to deepen, and becomes comparably darker. Without giving too much away with regard to the plot twist that emerges in the play’s final minutes, we can safely say that we left the theatre satisfied, moved and thoroughly entertained.

Performance Dates: “I and You”

Runs between 18th October and 24th November 2018

HAMPSTEAD THEATRE,

ETON AVENUE, SWISS COTTAGE,

LONDON, NW3 3EU

(https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2018/i-and-you/)

Can’t get tickets? Keep checking back as tickets returned in advance of the performance will be released for resale on the website. On the day of the performance, the box office runs a returns queue for any tickets that have been returned within 48 hours of that show. The queue opens no earlier than 2 hours before curtain up. Tickets will be sold as at full price (no concessions are available) to the customers in order of the queue, two tickets per customer. We cannot guarantee that returns will be available.

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