I Would Not

Wed 30th May – Sat 2nd June 2012

reviews

Chelsey Stuyt

at 12:30 on 31st May 2012

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The psyche of the young is forever unstable. With emotions running from excited highs to raging lows in moments, there is little room for self-reflection. There is only emotion and action. “I Would Not” captures these feelings brilliantly, but is ultimately unseated by the very immaturity that it captures so well.

The Tin Can Collective, a group of graduates from the Bristol Old Vic Young Company, present “I Would Not” as an effort to give multiple perspectives on life. From their website, “I Would Not is about boundaries; what they are, where they come from, what happens when we push them?”. And to a certain extent they do everything they promise. There is a lot said about what it's like to grow up through the medium of the electronics and social networking that is quite interesting. There are many scenes where the young actors strip off their clothes and rage at the audience for the objectification they feel, for the insecurities they have, for the labels they feel are pushed upon them. This is all done with a great deal of emotion and a sense that they're saying “something”. But ultimately, it feels immature. The feelings and emotions of the cast are thrust upon the audience with an intensity that can only come of that period in your life – and none of it is examined. Every issue, every feeling that is brought up is hurled at the audience like a hailstone, but it doesn't get discussed. There is no resolution. They deal with none of the issues. This makes the show feel more like a snapshot than a story.

The stage direction, however, was excellent. Miranda Cromwell and the cast did an excellent job of executing several neat bits of staging, particularly the instant messsaging conversations between Gabrielle Sheppard and Anthony Almeida. The fight sequence between Lala Simpson and the boys was also incredibly well done and was one of the few moments in the show where the cast's emotional intensity really managed to move beyond themselves and into the audience. The musical numbers were, in general, pitch perfect and helped to highlight the theme of each scene. A particualr highlight was the final song, “do you like me now” where Gabrielle Sheppard's tears shed a sense of the depth of the emotions the cast was feeling. However, the excess use of smoke was both uncomfortable and unwarranted. It cheapened the production.

Ultimately, the show was undercut by its very strength. The emotional intensity of one's teens makes you unable to truly deal with any of the issues that crowd in on you until you're of a maturity to really face them. This show does an excellent job of showcasing the emotions felt by the cast, but it is these very emotions that make it impossible to deal with any of the issues directly. This results in the show feeling a bit immature and earnest. A shame, for the cast is certainly very talented and will undoubtedly go on to do great things.

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Pia Dhaliwal

at 12:41 on 31st May 2012

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“The following people are all real. However, some scenes have been created for entertainment purposes.”

Such was the tactful yet pointed message superimposed across the back of the stage prior to the beginning of I Would Not. And over the course of the next fifty minutes, it became clear just how appropriate the explanation was. While the scenes depicted were obviously the product of meticulous devising and choreography, they all drew upon the individual strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and insecurities of the cast – an authenticity subtly highlighted by the use of their real names throughout the performance.

Pushing boundaries, determining what’s okay and what isn’t, and asking why the lines are drawn where they’re drawn – these were the questions asked in I Would Not that the collective talent of the ensemble, combined with their youth, were in a good position to answer. Over the course of an hour, the themes of sex, identity, sexual orientation, gender, violence and racism were all addressed, and the very fact that they were being addressed by such a young set of people was in itself jarring. The opening performance, for instance, consisted of the cast preening, teasing and styling themselves for a night out, culminating in drunken club antics. Despite the heavy music accompanying the piece, there was unmistakeable laughter from the audience – perhaps at the sight of friends bumping and grinding onstage, but probably at least partly in recognition of having very much been there.

What followed was a slickly directed and well-paced set of scenes that dealt swiftly with topics like attitudes towards watching pornography, the hypocrisy of accepting crudely sexual ‘your mum’ jokes while decrying racist humour as offensive, the gendered notions of anal sex, the alienation of homosexuality, male and female body issues, the awkwardness of Facebook chat sessions, the different perceptions towards male and female violence, and other subjects besides. While all this might sound overwhelming and perhaps runs the risk of being preachy or excessive, the excellent direction and choreography meant that transitions between each mini-scene were excellently timed and executed. Each piece was told through varying combinations of staging, dance, music, physicality – and, yes, Facebook – that fully utilised the space and meant the stage was always busy but never pointlessly so. That and the energy and enthusiasm of the cast ensured that the pace never lagged, and I never found myself glancing at my watch or impatiently awaiting the end of any piece. Perhaps more importantly with regard to the aforementioned enthusiasm of the cast was the fact that their more gratuitous acts – simulating sex, groping each other, removing their clothes, etc – were convincing and easier to watch then they would have been if anyone had been visibly reluctant or awkward. Which isn’t to say that there was any lack of humour, warmth or relatable awkwardness – an amusing parody rendition of Blue’s Fly By comes to mind – and in fact, the comedic and dramatic elements of the show were enjoyably well-balanced. Also impressive was the choreography – particular standouts include a workout video-type piece in which several of the female cast members danced provocatively but vacantly for the equally blank-faced males, and a scene in which the male cast members ran around the stage, pausing to discuss elements of masculinity.  

Interspersing the collection of scenes was a recurring storyline between Anthony Almeida and Gabrielle Sheppard, taking place in the form of Facebook chat sessions and drunken party scenes, resulting in an exquisitely performed yet unmistakeably disturbing and awkward sexual encounter between the two. By the end of the show, the opening dance was repeated, this time with everyone stripped down to their underwear – a fitting reminder to how much they’d ‘exposed’ themselves, so to speak, in just under an hour.

The technical execution and planning of the show was undoubtedly inventive and excellent, and the collective (musical, vocal, acting and physical) talent of the cast undeniable. Each member delivered a strong performance, and particular standout moments including James Kent and Lily Drewry’s comedic back-and-forth and Lala Simpson’s singing and presence. Gabrielle Sheppard and Anthony Almeida’s interactions drew both knowing laughter and disturbed murmurs from the audience in equal parts, while Ruby Etches’ and Stef Martini’s initially sexual and gradually increasingly violent fight was hypnotic to watch. Andre McMiller and Alistair Debling both provided excellent musical and vocal accompaniment, while Alice Ritchie was snappy and charming as she casually batted aside feminist arguments.

Overall, the show is a striking depiction of youthful naivety versus gendered societal expectations, although in doing so it does venture into some very dark territory. While the strength and inventiveness of the staging and direction drive the show forward, the lasting impression one is left with is nonetheless uncomfortable, jarring and strangely alienating. I would definitely recommend giving it a go on the basis of talent, direction and inventiveness. But to recommend it to people just looking for a light-hearted jaunt out of the sun? I, for my part, would not.

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