The main stage at Contact cuts a formidable sight as 16 children form a barrier of confrontation downstage to perform a rehearsed reading, exploring the ways in which adults' words and actions define young people's experience.
That Night Follows Day is a collaborative project between Forced Entertainment and Contact following a series of workshops with an exceptionally talented cast of local children aged 8-14 years. Written by Tim Etchells and originally produced by Flemish theatre company Campo, the piece has been performed more than 180 times in subtitled Dutch across the world since its debut in May 2007.
Over the course of an hour, a catalogue of expectations and contradictions, of truths, half-truths and white lies, are delivered in choral unity. "You tell us to hurry up. You tell us to wait a minute", where statements, accusations, advice and an abundance of information are spat at the audience in an effort to interrogate the truisms and excuses of their elders. Emotions – along with an otherwise empty stage - are laid bare.
All eyes are on the line-up of children as they perform with both the script, and the audience, in hand. There is an undercurrent of anger that is punctuated by touches of humour and vulnerability, as the statements become more personal and more sinister: "You tell us not to send photos to strangers". The intensity gathers momentum and crescendos in an outstanding monologue of bitter castigation at feelings of enforced silence and dismissive triviality "You tell us to shut our fucking mouths! You tell us no! You tell us no!"
The intensity of adults listening to children in a one-way exchange of such dramatic interpretation has never been more palpable. But for all the charged raw emotion, the positive affirmations and the plaudits are not afforded enough of a contrast in delivery, eclipsed by the threats and the barrage of allegations, until a journey through the etiquette of childhood becomes a volatile list of identified parental flaws.
Plenty of verbal punches are thrown, but an anticipated climax is never quite reached, giving way instead to a repetition of format that is perhaps more suitable for such a young cast. Reviled indictments are eventually softened by a moment of closing poignancy: "You tell us that it's all going to be okay", as a lingering acknowledgement and a hopeful apprehension stares back from the faces of the 16 performers.
Innovative, inherently original, an education in discernment through the eyes of children that breaks convention in performance style. Whatever language this piece is performed in, there is nothing lost in translation.