UNIVERSITY students have had a massively challenging, and disappointing, time during the pandemic lockdowns and cancellations, segregated from the majority of their friends, colleagues and teachers and learning for all-important exams by Zoom meetings and virtual lessons.
So it’s all the more impressive that the BA(Hons) students at AUB have re-emerged into the public spotlight with a production as accomplished, multi-faceted and brilliantly performed as The Changing Room, the first of four pre-Christmas shows at their studio theatre at the Wallisdown campus.
Chris Bush’s play was written for the NT Connections youth theatre festival in 2018. Like most of the commissions for the annual festival, it has variable cast numbers to accommodate many different groups of performers. It is all about teenagers in that unpredictable and puzzling place between childhood and adulthood.
It’s told in rhyme and song, as the cast (11 in Segen Yosef’s production) meet at the swimming pool – seen by parents as a suitably safe place for them to hang out without the temptations of alcohol and adult-rated entertainments (and also the weekly refuge of the divorced father and his briefly-accessible offspring, before repairing to the burger bar).
Here, each of these human imagos rehearses their hopes, fears, frustrations and insecurities ahead of the last step into another world, with no reverse gear provided.
The students – Jessica Betteridge, Ada Clintworth, Catarina da Silva, Jason Daly, Marta Fossati, Pippa Griffiths, Matt Lockett, Nat Piechowiak, Tom Ward and William Wilson – have devised their own choreography for the piece, and it is spectacular, with hints of Pina Bausch in the repetitive movement and percussive like Stomp. The “Greek chorus” structure of the play, interspersed with songs written by the playwright and pop tunes, underlines both the timelessness of the situation and the overarching effects of 21st century life on the expectations of both children and their parents.
It’s a huge subject encompassed in 65 minutes of pathos, humour, love, hate, tentative first steps and belligerent self-justification, encased in equal quantities of hope and fear.
It’s a thought-provoking and accessible play, brilliantly done by these talented students, who next week swap with their Changing Room backstage team to present Polly Teale’s adaptation of Jane Eyre in the same space.