Who remembers oven baked smileys? The Nokia 5110? Hull-based company Middle Child take these and many other pop-culture signifiers and run with them in their latest show, which jumps through decades – from 1987, to '97, to '07, to the present day.
And although the entire audience will cheer when they come to something they remember from growing up – the Nokia got the loudest one in the crowd I was in – Middle Child's main achievement in representing each decade is in the music. All We Ever Wanted… is gig-theatre, with composer James Frewer creating tunes that chime with the popular genres of each decade. We get echos of George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys in the '80s, there's moments of head banging Kooks-style sounds, indie tunes and more. It's all played live onstage by the actors and Frewer in a frenetic, ebullient, really, really fun mash-up.
At the centre of this craziness is emcee Marc Graham in tight black jeans, hanging braces and a white t-shirt. He's wearing black eyeliner and he's there to talk us through the story of two young people. Born on the same day in Hull, but from very different backgrounds, Leah and Chris are trying to make their way in the world. Chris suffers from the pressure to succeed put on him by his mum, Leah laments all the opportunities her bouncer single parent dad wasn't able to give her. They make mistakes, they get drunk, they end up in 2017 in their thirties both disillusioned, unhappy and a bit lost.
Though Barnes' writing is brilliantly punchy and poetic, it's a story you've probably heard before. But the beauty in this show comes in the way it's staged. Paul Smith's direction has us bopping from our seats, remembering those things we used to know and listening to some really great tunes while the play unfolds all around us.
Graham absolutely drives this piece and he is a vibrant, buzzing presence, interacting with the audience, jumping through the crowds, headbanging to the music. He's a kind of theatre-rock god, commenting on the action throughout and getting the laughs in as he goes. He doesn't dominate the stage, but without him All We Ever Wanted... would be a very different beast.
Ultimately Barnes' play is about lost opportunities and acting on your dreams. Yes, it says, we've been through Broken Britain, yes young people can't afford a house, but the moment you wallow is the moment you've lost. Let's carve out the next decade, the play says, and make it ours. It's a rousing and invigorating call to arms that speaks directly to anyone trying to find their place in the world. Which, I think, is probably just about everybody.
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything runs at Summerhall until 27 August, 20.45.