Review Of Our Generation: Alecky Blythe’s Epic Battle To Capture The Essence Of Being A Young British Person In The 21st Century
Our Generation, an ambitious attempt to capture the ineffable feeling of being young in Britain, was assembled from more than 600 hours of interviews with 12 adolescents over five years by interviewer Alecky Blythe.
The stories range from Birmingham to Glasgow, from Belfast to South London. They include the celebrity-obsessed siblings Ayesha and Ali, whose family has been shattered by tragedy; Emily, who’s bent on becoming the head of the house; and Annabella, who struggles with a troubled relationship with her mother.
It is evident that Blythe arranges and assembles these interviews like a conductor, and there is something unquestionably musical about how certain moments are refracted and highlighted. Blythe’s Our Generation is at its best when she juxtaposes the experiences of two characters facing a familiar obstacle. Where bright, precocious Robyn is working in a chicken shop and dreams of studying screenwriting, anxious Lucas is considering driving around Europe on a gap year.
Despite being engaging and thoughtfully curated, Our Generation lacks depth instead of sailing along on the teenagers’ inherent charisma, hoping that profundity can be found in the banality of daily life. In addition, it feels trite when Blythe attempts to explore various, loosely conceived “themes,” like social media impact, self-esteem, and Covid. The problem is not the children, who are dynamic and endearing in their mix of preternatural maturity and adolescence, but rather the open-mindedness of the concept, which meanders through its three-and-a-half-hour runtime. Tragic events in one’s life create a morbid, uncomfortable fascination, which challenges the ethical considerations of verbatim theatre.
Director Daniel Evans gifts the film’s ensemble: Helder Fernandes, who plays the swaggering basketball player Luan, is relaxed and swaggering. And Rachelle Diedericks, who plays Ierum, the sweet girl who’s self-conscious about her body, is an endearing presence, with a surprising steely core. As well as their children, the adults in the company are astounding performers, switching accents at a moment’s notice and multi-rolling as stuffy teachers and concerned parents. Hasan Dixon makes a strong impression as Luan’s comical father.
The production in Evans’ albums is relatively spare and lets the voices speak for themselves. Even so, the show’s occasional, showier points are repetitive, as illustrated by a rhythmic movement section that explores teenagers’ reliance on smartphones and a moment where the ensemble sings an acapella cover of dated fun. The song “Some Nights” feels like something adults decide rather than something teenagers would do.
Meanwhile, Vicki Mortimer’s sleek design evokes the look of a slate wiped clean, and Akhila Krishnan’s complementary projections, which scrawl chalk drawings on the back wall of the Dorfman, are evocative, if underused. Despite some phenomenally assured performances, Our Generation is an experiment that falls under its weight.