NT Connections is a nationwide festival of new writing and young theatre talent. Ten members of the Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company take part in one of the new plays that the National Theatre has commissioned to be performed across the UK. The Company has bags of enthusiasm and talent; unfortunately Stacey Gregg’s new play does not so much challenge as confuse and so does not make the best use of these qualities. I’m Spilling My Heart Out Here concerns a group of teens spending their time either slagging off, or attempting to cop off with, each other. The arrival of a new member of the gang, who may or may not have a strange relationship with a deceased pupil, acts as a catalyst to a bizarre physical manifestation of their emotions.
Although full of ideas the play is unfocused and over-runs badly. The characterisation reflects the influence of teen dramas like Buffy and Dawson’s Creek – the pretty girls are bitches, the geek wears glasses and may be gay and the teens are over-articulate; capable of reporting on cellular memory. There is a lack of clarity in the storytelling with key developments taking place off-stage and being described in a way that leaves you struggling to put faces to names. It is very hard to understand why the gang suddenly turns against one of its members.
Director Andrew Barry sets a naturalistic tone for the play making excellent use of the life-experience that the Company bring to the stage. The cast respond with relaxed and convincing performances as a group in the highly active playground scenes and as individuals in the more intimate moments. But neither the director nor cast can handle the abrupt change in mood when, after a few faltering steps towards a ghost story, the play switches from naturalistic to magic reality.
The dramatic effect of the change is mishandled – it ought to provoke a strong reaction, either positive or negative, but you just end up puzzled. More significantly the cast share this confusion with their delivery occasionally showing a lack of comprehension.
I’m Spilling My Heart Out Here isn’t the success one would have wished for such a promising young company but does give the cast the chance to show their potential for the future.