I was watching Barrie Keeffe’s Barbarians last week - a student performance taken on, some might think, by some unlikely lads. It is a play about frustration, in particular the frustration of 16 and 19 year old boys - three school friends - facing a lifetime of who knows what. The play was first on stage in 1977 and essentially, I found myself contemplating that - much as society, racial tension and lack of opportunities were the focus of the crises in the drama - this was a play charting deteriorating mental health in two young men; something about which they were unable to communicate and for which there was no support. Suffice it to say that it didn’t take much for the producers to make the play valid and relevant today.
Later in the week, back at Freemen’s, we brought Wonderland to life on the stage; though Laura Wade’s framed narrative - Alice - successfully turned Lewis Carroll’s children’s standard on its head. Again, we saw young actors taking on challenging roles, playing characters computing complex emotions, grieving and coming to terms with profound sadness and loss.
Both plays moved their audiences. Both plays gave us tween/teenagers writ large. Both illuminated the challenges which young people face poignantly.
It’s interesting that two schools have chosen to perform works of drama with such strong messages. One ends bleakly, the other ends with hope.