Review: Ask Me Anything – Live Theatre, Newcastle

Standard

First published in The Times, Thursday February 6 2019

Three Stars

Back in the pre-internet age it was de rigueur for teenagers seeking advice on everything from medical matters to sex and relationships to write letters to the agony pages of magazines such as Just Seventeen. If this process sounds quaint and unwieldy, it at least raised the prospect of a single, authoritative reply rather than the myriad provided by any Google search.

The venerable magazine advice column is a key inspiration for this new devised show from the Paper Birds. The company invited teenagers from around the UK to ask questions on any subject, which the director Jemma McDonnell and her cast, mostly in their twenties and thirties, here attempt to reply.

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©The Paper Birds Theatre Company

Among the 100-odd letters received by the company, the queries gofrom the workaday (“how do you pay tax?” “What even is a mortgage?”) via the intimate (“does having sex hurt?”) to more involved inquiries about coping with bereavement and navigating complex racial or gender identities.

 

Unsurprisingly, there is a degree of comic mileage in the company’s exploration of the lighter aspects of adolescent experience. The performer Georgie Coles shares extracts from her teenage diary, which range from the sweetly banal to a raging sense of injustice. Kylie Perry revisits her coming of age through the medium of a spot-on pastiche of an angst-ridden teenage drama.

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©The Paper Birds Theatre Company

As the ensemble acknowledges, some of the issues they were tasked with looking into fell so far outside their experience that they had to draw on the wisdom of friends and loved ones, whose advice, relayed by video and often pithily eloquent, provides some of the more moving aspects of the show.

 

At times, though, the impact of this piece is undercut by its ambition: 80 minutes is simply insufficient time to scratch the surface of some of these issues or even build a persuasive snapshot of contemporary teenage life. Yet, while the storytelling feels disjointed, the piece, staged as an informal forum with audience members reclining on cushions, is performed with warmth and an infectious energy, easily eliciting interaction with the audience, while the punchy songs, performed by Rosie Doonan, deliver added poignancy.

 

Box office: 0191 232 1232, to February 8. Touring to June 20. Thepaperbirds.com

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