Published in The List
The youth will out
I Hope My Heart Goes First has been given the thumbs up from the Made in Scotland fund. Remarkably, finds Mark Fisher, it is performed by teenagers
Say what you like about Junction 25, but don't call it a youth theatre. 'The young people we work with experience the world the same as an adult would,' says Jess Thorpe, co-director of the Glasgow company. 'We reject youth theatre as an idea. It suggests young people are somehow less able to perform or less able to have an idea.'
It's certainly true your average youth theatre doesn't get asked to tour to London and Norway, nor end up with backing from the prestigious Made in Scotland fund for a two-week run on the Edinburgh Fringe. It's also true your average youth theatre doesn't get reviewed in the daily papers, let alone attract five-star raves. 'Pure joy,' said The Scotsman. 'Outstanding,' said The Herald.
Those write-ups were for I Hope My Heart Goes First, an hour-long amalgam of theatre, dance, music and comedy in which 20 teenagers expound on the workings of the human heart. At the centre is Adam, the group's youngest member, now 13, for whom adult relationships are a mystery. While he sets to work writing an improvised list of all the things he loves – anything from Shredded Wheat to computer games – the rest of the cast put him right by sharing their experiences of romance.
'It came from adults saying, "Oh, you don't understand it when you're only that age – it's not real love,"' says Thorpe. 'But the show expresses that it is.'
What distinguishes the company's work are two things. One is the high production values. 'When we started, our remit was to produce a young company with a professional aesthetic,' says co-director Tashi Gore. The other is that what you hear is the true expression of the actors themselves. 'We make really good theatre and it's us that makes it,' says Megan Reid, 18, a member for five years. 'It's our input, our performance. You're performing as yourself and you're performing something you've made and you're proud when you show it.'
Francesca Lacey, 19, was the first member to sign up to Junction 25 when it launched at Glasgow's Tramway six years ago. She is now a student on the contemporary performance practice course at the RSAMD, but still acting in *3I Hope My Heart Goes First*2 for as long as it tours. 'I'd gone to drama groups when I was younger and they'd give you a script and you’d learn your lines,' she says. 'Junction 25, I found really different. It was all about your opinion, your voice and what you wanted to say about the world as a young person. That was really exciting. It felt as though I was being listened to.'
It also feels to the performers as though they are being treated as artists. 'Not only is Junction 25 a place where young people can take ownership of the material, but also it is the opportunity to be part of something that is quite professional,' says Megan's sister Rosie, 19, also at the RSAMD. 'The work speaks for itself, not only in terms of young people making it, but in the wider theatre context.'
For the directors, the trick is not to impose their ideas but to tune into what interests the young performers. In this way, the actors become raw materials for Gore and Thorpe to shape into a finished production. 'We get excited about their different qualities and then build something using those qualities,' says Thorpe. 'People ask us how we got that performance out of them, but that's what they're like all the time. There's a poetic framework around it and a craft that goes alongside it, which is what we do.'
It's a democratic process in which the directors allow the actors to be heard, perhaps as a slightly exaggerated version of themselves, but close enough to let them speak with confidence about real experiences. 'The stories I tell are stories that have happened to me – ridiculous stories about failures in love,' says Lacey, blushing. 'Every time I tell them it's funnier for me. I think, 'Why did I do that?' It's so embarrassing. And if the audience are in a particularly funny mood, I'll throw some things in that'll make them laugh even more.'
I Hope My Heart Goes First, Remarkable Arts, St George’s West, 0131 226 0000, 5–16 Aug, 2pm; 24 Aug, 8.30pm, £10 (£8).
© Mark Fisher 2011
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