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Reviews: The Environmentalists, YEP At Everyman / Who’s Afraid Of The Working Class, LIPA At Unity

AT the weekend we saw two performances showcasing a wealth of talent, nurtured here in Liverpool.

The Environmentalists is the latest offering from Young Everyman Playhouse with a cast of 43 young performers onstage at the Everyman making a heartfelt plea for the environment. The message is pretty clear – although we may feel that our own individual efforts to protect the world we live in are to little or no effect, why not just do it anyway? We might just save the Earth.

As with their last big ensemble performance at the Everyman, Until They Kick Us Out, the work has been devised by the performers themselves but, where that last piece was made up of a series of separate personal stories, The Environmentalists feels much more like a cry from a collective consciousness. The 90-minute span of the performance comprises a sequence of scenes that each take a different spin on the same subject, but there is still a clear focus to the work as a whole.

There are domestic arguments about food waste and turning off the lights, a host of dying penguins, a sea choked with plastic bags and two future people nurturing the last seeds left on earth. On sustainably sourced paper this might sound confused, but in the hands of YEP and their Directors Matt Rutter and Chris Tomlinson the whole comes together as a coherent and powerful argument that challenges one of the biggest environmental problems of all – apathy.

It would be unfair to begin singling out individual performances, as this is very much an ensemble piece but, as ever, each audience member is sure to go away with a lot of faces that they’re hoping to see back on stage again. What has been remarked upon with surprise by other youth theatres is that the Everyman and Playhouse have opened up their main stage for the performance rather than one of the studio spaces, allowing the whole YEP team, including those studying the off-stage and technical stuff, to experience full-scale staging in a professional producing theatre. This is a clear indication of the confidence and pride that the company have in YEP.

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts have 32 actors graduating this year and, from Thursday to Saturday, 12 of these actors took to Unity Theatre’s main stage to present a specially commissioned new play from Liverpool writer Luke Barnes, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?

Who's Afraid of the Working Class?
Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?

Directed by LIPA’s Head of Acting Will Hammond, the play revolves around the life of John and his family, charting various periods from John’s childhood to old age. There are many complex themes explored and at times the writing feels as though it has a few too many ideas to work with. Action pulls back and forth through time and the cast do a tremendous job of holding the labyrinthine narrative together, with some doubling of roles, and there are some notably strong performances.

Chris Mohan is John’s son when John is an adult and his father when he’s a child, and the transformation is impressive, as is Connor Lee Dye as John himself, remarkably convincing in old age. Matilda Weaver, too, is compelling as John’s long-suffering wife, as are Sophie Cottle and Michael Bryan as their other son and daughter. James Botterill has a centrally villainous character, unlikeable but richly drawn, while Joseph Wood is given an unsympathetic “only gay in the village” part that he manages to make three-dimensional.

The increasingly popular trend for having actors play in their native dialects can sometimes be confusing, and here it leads to a Yorkshireman having three children who appear to have been brought up in England, Ireland and America respectively, but the passion in the performances carries us beyond the barrier of disbelief. Staging is dynamic and makes excellent use of space, while there is some nicely choreographed stage movement.

Watching these two very different shows within 24 hours delivers a tremendously positive message about the strongly beating creative heart of the city. Young Everyman Playhouse offers a great opportunity for local young people to learn every aspect of theatre-making, while LIPA attracts emerging creative talent from across the globe.

Don’t let anyone tell you that theatre is a dying art – come and feel its pulse in and around Liverpool’s Hope Street.

Reviews by Nigel Smith


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