Young Pretenders Theatre Company Deliver Laughs Aplenty With [UNTITLED]
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson, photos provided by The Young Pretenders Theatre Company
“What do a well-fed goat, a single wooden chair, and a pair of missing trousers have in common?” These lines formed the hook for The Young Pretenders Theatre Company’s latest show, [UNTITLED].
Intriguing words, to say the least, and definitely food to get the audience thinking about as we took our seats while classical violin music piped through Exeter Phoenix’s auditorium. The stage itself presented no clues; stripped back and entirely bare save for a lone microphone stand, there was no hint whatsoever where that well-fed goat would come in.
[UNTITLED] began with what I am certain is one of the most striking openings I have seen from a local theatre company; Ellis (Jonny Hibbs) commanded the stage as he played the violin with no other accompaniments. There is something undeniably powerful about a young man standing centre stage and holding the audience’s attention with the ethereal yet melancholy tones of the instrument. And then the spell was comedically broken as Hibbs stamped loudly on a loop pedal.
This was the first moment of many during the performance of [UNTITLED] that demonstrated the promising talent of The Young Pretenders Theatre Company. Still commanding the stage entirely on his own, Hibbs began a soliloquy, accompanied only by the violin and vocals that he had just recorded through the loop pedal.
This solo performance hinted at the self-reflexive nature of show with its mockery of dramatic tropes and Shakespearean language, with Ellis proclaiming that during this performance, he would die (whilst being rudely interrupted by a female voiceover that shared none of his Shakespearean grandeur).
[UNTITLED] then takes the postmodern one step further; it is a play about a play. Ellis, the director, is even credited as such on the poster for the show. In many ways this is a play about Ellis as we witness the excited, if slightly cynical, director bring together his cast for the play and then journey steadily into alcoholism and vitriol as the cast fail his expectations again and again and again (hopefully not a reflection on true director Lucy Hirst’s experience with The Young Pretenders!).
Although this may be a show about Ellis’s descent into depression (with extravagant comedy flair, I must add), that is not to say that the remainder of the cast should be ignored. For a company of nineteen actors, all aged between twelve and eighteen, it would be easy for the characters to lose their distinctness. This was most certainly not the case. Tuesday (Alice Bebber) retained her free-spirited, slightly irritating vibe throughout, Marty (Ella Tagg) garnered a lot of laughs with her strongly chavvy vibe and ludicrous dance moves and Ronnie (Kristian Garside) demonstrated real flair despite being mute for almost the entire performance. Each character’s conception had clearly been carefully considered, with distinct oddities and affectations creating the cast of misfits who, despite being unable to work together under Ellis’s direction, still managed to combine to form his worst directorial nightmare.
The comedic timing that The Young Pretenders Theatre Company displayed in [UNTITLED] was uncannily adult; I have witnessed many shows where comedy beats are missed or opportunities for audience interaction are not taken. This was a true delight of the performance, and one that took me entirely by surprise.
The Young Pretenders Theatre Company certainly aren’t shy to demonstrate that they are on a limited budget (and made a mockery of this when producer Quinn (Finley Cook) presents Ellis with a chair rather than the three-storey house promised). How would any other company get an elephant, adolescent lion and well-fed goat on stage? I’m not sure, and quite honestly, I don’t care because director Lucy Hirst and The Young Pretenders showed how it can be done with next to no budget and fantastic comedy effect.
The program slip promises that “the latest offering from TYP is here to make you laugh”, and it more than delivers in this respect; from the darkly comic guinea pig scene with Mika (Amelie Vacarri) to Blake’s (Molly Grogan) hilarious enactment of her character within Ellis’s play. This Exeter-based theatre company “creating work with, by and for young people” in the area holds an impressive cast of promising young actors who are guaranteed to keep you guessing with what stunts they will pull next.
So what do “well-fed goat, a single wooden chair, and a pair of missing trousers” have in common? Well, you’ll have to come along to the show to find out.
To find out more about The Young Pretenders Theatre Company, visit their website.
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