A wise playwright once said that like its wars and its politicians, society gets the teenagers it deserves. If anyone from the future had to glean a picture of teen life in the early 21st century from scanning our doom-laden newspapers, they would be forgiven for assuming that it consisted of little else but stabbings, ASBOs and the growing pains of bespectacled apprentice wizards. Teens have become a frightening study in contemporary anthropology.
So it’s a welcome breath of fresh air to see a drama that honestly and vividly portrays the more common bittersweet cocktail that makes up most people’s adolescent memories - raging hormones, bullying on the back seats of buses and the green shoots of finding your own voice against an uncertain future that might take you to volunteering in Tibet or working for the Debt Recovery department of North West Water.
Matthew Dunster’s You Can See the Hills, returning to the Young Vic after a successful run in the Clare studio last year, clearly contains a very strong element of autobiography. In this coming-of-age monologue, Adam tackles the treacherous terrain of asking the girl you fancy out on a date, kicking out against loving parents and finding the angle in the mirror where you can be “at least as good looking as John Taylor from Duran Duran” – all with varying degrees of success. Sometimes he gets himself into much murkier waters, but this is an Oldham where the sun is always shining and there is little doubt that our hero will make it to the other side, to the art cinema and the bright lights of Manchester.
There is admittedly little here that especially surprises and certainly at over two and a half hours, the evening would benefit from a rigorous edit and a firmer structure. However, Dunster brilliantly acknowledges that teenagers can really struggle at communicating what being a teenager is like. William Ash as Adam positively revels in contrasting mood swings and voices that topple over one another headlong as he grapples with the inconsistency, incoherence and the cliches of his generation.
You Can See the Hills is ultimately a very tender portrait, performed with enormous energy and charm. In chronicling a very particular individual time and place, Matthew Dunster reminds and reassures us that despite episodes of reddening embarrassment, the bit from 13 to 19 isn’t a destination but just a fairly bumpy bit of the journey.