From pregnancy to death, the highlights of New Connections 2007 reveal truths about teenage life that shock us into laughter and out again.
Like indie film Juno, Roy Williams’ Baby Girl proves that teenage pregnancy can be funny too. Kelle is 13 and pregnant. Samantha, her rueful mother, is 26. While Sal ricochets from empathy to self-disgust Kelle grows up fast, taking on the bullies and the bitches. On this estate, there’s no space for childhood. Devastatingly, girls deride virgins and discuss baby names as casually as flicking through Heat. In a great, predominantly teenage cast, Candassaie Liburd shines as a quirkily heroic Kelle.
That Dennis Kelly cites Pinter as an influence is no surprise. With staccato dialogue, looping monologues and pervasive sense of menace, Kelly’s DNA is Grange Hill for the Skins generation. A teenage group find that their ritualistic bullying has led to a death. Their leader appeals to geeky Phil (Sam Crane) like a shady City dealer bringing in the spin doctor. Reeling off a complex cover-up, the immediacy of Phil’s calculations is chilling.
Paul Miller, director of all three plays, manages the ensemble scenes with such skill that every relationship shift is seen, every nuance clear. The stand-out performance, however, is Ruby Bentall as Phil’s bookish adorer, talking herself in circles. Simon Daw’s design is also shown to best effect here. Using a huge screen as backdrop, a camera winds around a forest finding wrecked cars, graffiti, rotten wood and accompanied by explosions of techno: the nasty reality of the glib narrative.
Strange then to come to The Miracle. Young Veronica (endearing Ruby Bentall again) is gifted with healing powers since a statue of St Anthony arrived in her bedroom during a flood. Aided by doughty chum Zelda (Rebecca Cooper), she acts as therapist to her troubled town with blazer-clad schoolgirls, a bohemian Irish Catholic mother and quaintly named pubs. A traumatised soldier fresh from Baghdad can’t convince us this is post 9/11. The audience adore the plucky pair, but characters pile in and the story meanders. Teenage crime and war ethics are lost under the retro wash of Liz Coghlan’s, albeit charming, blarney.
As New Connections’ remit is to provide new plays for young actors, this final, adult-heavy play is an unconvincing choice. A soothing end, however, to a provocative evening.