Year Ten

Sun 14th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Coreen Grant

at 09:29 on 15th Aug 2016

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‘Year 10’ is a gritty, incisive study of a fifteen-year-old boy, Jack, and his struggle in the harsh environment of his school. Debunking the expectation that schools are havens of safety and nurturing, this eye-opening play explores how decent kids in underprivileged areas can be forced to extreme ends. Demonstrating the disastrous effects of unchecked bullying, the performance is a compassionate, poignant story, which takes a hard look at the odds faced by young adults in their formative years.

The acting is skillful and convincing, the cast’s brash reactions and self-conscious movements successfully depicting teenage angst and anxiety. Niall Burns in the lead role of Jack is wonderfully relatable, stuck in a swirling turmoil of worries over peer pressure, girls, parents, and football. The play covers a year of Jack’s life: the time lapses are connected by intimate snippets of Jack’s letters written to his absent brother. These personal insights create a strong connection between audience and character, which is especially acute in demonstrating Jack’s mild nature and the deteriorative effect his environment wreaks upon him.

The tone of the play is powerful: full of vitriolic encounters, and children who have learnt to lash out rather than to trust. Charming touches such as the relatable embarrassment of adolescents dealing with their mothers, and Jack’s nervousness before moving to a new school, gradually give way to darker insights. The script, written by Simon Vinnicombe, is coarse and aggressive, with many uncomfortable moments ranging from physical pain to emotional hysteria. Although difficult to watch, the uneasy feeling the play produces is clearly intentional. Its jarring tone leaves a lasting impression, and forces the observer to think more carefully about the problems portrayed.

The moral message, however, seems to be largely absent from the play. Jack’s only role model, his teacher thoughtfully played by Alex Millan, is punished for protecting him. The closest the play has to a lesson comes from Mr. Vickory’s promise that things always keep changing, sometimes for worse but also for better. However, the tragic finish is far from uplifting, a result of culminating pressure and the scary reality of children’s vulnerability.

For a performance which packs emotional potential and acting power, one feels that the enduring impact could have been made more significant by an illuminative or instructive moral. 'Year Ten' seems to be a problem without a solution.

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Izzie Fernandes

at 10:54 on 15th Aug 2016

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Being reviewed in their opening performance evidently does not deter the cast of Just Add Milk’s ‘Year Ten’. These actors tackle raw teenage hardships with sensitivity and gusto.

The play's plotline gravely illuminates the human capacity for cruelty. At home, things are far from ideal for Jack; an absent father, a brother whose move up North leaves him bereft, and a mother whose ‘happy pills’ cannot appease her depression is Jack’s lot in the natural lottery.

The cast is a solid one; it is unsurprising that a number of them trained together at Arts Ed drama school and have backgrounds in professional theatre. Cooperation and effectively-timed reactions to one another gives the piece polish. Grimy content is delivered with sharp honesty. There is also a well-sustained, natural uniformity in the regional accent used by the cast.

Jack (Niall Burns) wallows in the depths of an insecurity which is natural to fifteen year-olds even at the best of times. ‘But I’m more weird’, he tells Holly Reynolds, who, though looking too youthful, plays his mother boldly. This touching exchange escalates into a desperate exclamation of his suicidal thoughts. Anxiety spirals out of control, revealing the distressingly dark underbelly of this teenage world.

Jack’s experience of traumatic bullying at a new school is performed with clarity. He uses a plastic bag as a rucksack and avidly writes secret letters; Burns deploys each of these idiosyncrasies with precision. With shuffling feet and wandering eye contact, Burns makes Jack’s quirkiness his own.

'Year Ten' commands attention. The overt physical stage presence of its actors creates intrigue and pathos. Wes, the class bully (Kyle Rowe) gives a particularly high-energy performance which has me feeling as if, like his own victims, I too am being shaken.

The setting is not abundantly obvious, so signposting the kids’ hangout may be helpful. Perhaps they fight and smoke in the common room, perhaps in a park? Other than Jack’s mother and a well-meaning yet ineffectual psychologist, none of the characters are more than fifteen. The cast successfully reflect the anarchy of underage sex, drug taking, and suicide. Something to the effect of revulsion stirs in me at the script’s deployment of obscenities and insults, exchanged between the five teenagers. Pairing this painful material with teenage lives runs risks of seeming distasteful yet, on the whole, the piece avoids falling fowl of this. The forceful content makes for an absorbing, albeit lengthy experience. And, though predictable, the climactic moments of Jack’s struggle are innovatively staged.

'Year Ten' is stirring and emotive. This gritty world moves me to such a degree, that despite my own less traumatic teenage years, I depart relieved at having left that chapter behind me.

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