Generation Arts: Dirty Special Thing, Platform Theatre - Review

In Timberlake Wertenbaker Our Country's Good, the disenfranchised settlers in 18th Century Australia find a voice and a meaning to their existence through staging a play – an activity to paraphrase Milton's Paradise Lost "that can make a heaven of hell".

Fast forward to the headlines in today papers, there's an ever-increasing number of people who are unable to afford to go to the established drama schools, and just like the mainstream higher education and job market, there's a polarisation with who's present and who isn't. However, unlike in Willy Russell's Educating Rita, there are no driven individuals or agencies out there that use Arts and culture to reach out and help the next generation self-actualize – or are there..?

Generation Arts is an organisation whose purpose to help young people who aren't in education, employment or training (NEETS) and gives them pre-drama school training which acts as an access course to other opportunities. By the time the course is over many young people, who don't necessarily have other formal skills or qualifications, are qualified to continue their cultural odyssey and perhaps train at one of the established premier drama schools.

Looking over the list of drama schools and organisations that are affiliated with Generation Arts' training programme, I'm impressed with stature of the bodies who have input in the syllabus. Arts Education Schools London I certainly recognised, impressed in the past by their productions and the calibre of their students. Also noteworthy are partners University of the Arts: London, the Roundhouse and the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA). Anyway Generation Arts' end-of-year Dirty Special Thing promised to be special and I'm pleased to say that I really enjoyed the evening.

The evening consisted a series of vignettes, with the cast for the most part, playing the same characters throughout. Just like La Ronde, each character made an impact, for better or for worse, on each person they meet. Some of the storylines sprang from the circumstances that young people in particular face, while other observations were immediately recognisable to anyone living in London. The tone of the comedy reminded me of the BBC sketch show The Real McCoy with their candidness and originality – one of my favourite shows from yesteryear. Other delightful nuggets included an impromptu rendition of David Bowie's Lady Grinning Soul which was inspired as it was unexpected.

Playing devil's advocate, it could be argued that the technical skills of some of the actors were not as developed as much as they could be. That's to be expected. What I will say is that what anyone lacked in concrete experience, they more than made up for with verve and natural talent. I found myself laughing easily and regularly throughout the performance and (dare I say it) found it more 'enjoyable' than some 'professional' productions I've seen in the past. The heartfelt applause by the friends and family in the audience nearly blew the roof off (it was that loud!), which I think was as much in recognition of the progress those on stage had made in their lives, as their actual performances.

As much as I enjoyed the evening, it would be remiss of me to not mention one person who truly deserves the limelight and accolades – director Ali Godfrey. Her DNA is present in the molding of storylines, the coaxing of performances and her good taste permeates everything seen and heard.

After the main show finished, a former GA trainee joined the actors on stage and related how since her graduation, she was now training at Arts Educational Schools London and other positive things that have happened since. This testimonial brought into focus what the hard work of those on stage was leading to and why Generation Arts is so important for facilitating breakthroughs for the young and marginalised.

© Michael Davis

Dirty Special Thing runs at the Platform Theatre, Kings Cross until 6th June 2015.

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