Wild Life (Norwich Playhouse)
Belgian arts centre CAMPO brings together ten young performers to explore the experience of how music makes you feel
Would you let Kim Noble near your kids? Last we saw of the out-there comedian, he was - rather brilliantly - haranguing Morrisons employees and recording his neighbours having sex under a strict 18-plus policy. That's the wonder of CAMPO, though. The Belgian arts centre pairs the unlikeliest artists, from Gob Squad to Tim Etchells, with a company of children - often to revelatory effect.
Wild Life pairs Noble with a group of teenager singer-songwriters, and gives them a showcase for their talents. Over an hour and a half, each performs a self-penned song - elegiac ballads, upbeat clubby tunes, folksy guitar pieces - while an old-fashioned tape recorder, spooling in the background, records the songs into an album. Some are awkward, some shy, some born to perform. You can't resist projecting futures onto them - successful or otherwise, mainstream or more off-beat.
Between songs, the kids say a little about themselves, about their relationships with their families and with society, and about their music. One prank calls chain hotels, pushing receptionists for life advice. Another performs her father's lyrics while he dances, self-consciously, his pride just visible beneath the surface. One recounts her dad's search history, outing his tastes in porn and his ignorance of Jay Z's outre - as if Google will clue him into his daughter's tastes without needing to ask her. They talk of day jobs in morgues, of frustration and outsidership — the tone is Noble's blackness watered down like child-friendly wine - and though the shambling structure glances off elements of the teenage experience, it never entirely coheres.
Not only are these kids recording an album, they're creating cover art, shooting a music video and stitching merch together - then flogging it all, a fiver a pop. It's a canny critique of a society that straightjackets its young by curtailing their financial freedom, while, at the same time, undercutting their protests. These kids aren't anti-everything, they're excluded. Given the cash to participate in society, to be independent, they'd take it like the rest of us. Even if Wild Life nods to empowerment, rather than realising it, the idea ripples outwards across other disenfranchised groups.
At the same time, though, Wild Life is a study of self-expression - a quiet enquiry into the performance of identity. Pol's staging allows the kids to choose between onstage and off, between taking the microphone or not. Against that, music becomes a public pronouncement, one that expresses a constructed identity, often rooted in mimicry. Each singer's sound and style is borrowed - be it New Romantic or Nu Folk. To be teenage is, after all, to put oneself together, to test drive a persona in public.
Wild Life runs at the Norwich Playhouse until 29 May