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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Foot/Mouth is the second double bill in the National Youth Theatre’s Soho Six Pack summer season. In these two linked comic thrillers writers John Nicholson and Steven Canny take an imaginative leap forward to the year 2025. Following a Tory landslide in 2010 and increased economic problems, a totalitarian regime has taken control in England, provoking Cornwall to declare independence. It’s a premise well-suited to a young company whose focus is on what the 21st-century will bring.

The first play, Foot, set in Cornwall, begins on a beach where Sarah (Jo Rayner) is in the middle of messaging Tim (James Camp) when she finds a dismembered foot half-buried in the sand. More feet are found as the days pass and the chatrooms hum with speculation. Some suitably laid-back and inefficient guards are brought in to investigate, led by a delightfully pompous Chief Inspector played by Rosie Sansom. Alice Coles also gives a very funny performance as the guard artist brought in to help with the investigation. The audience learns that Sarah’s father, sister and brother have disappeared and that she suspects the English of foul play.

Feet continue to be washed up and the blogosphere’s rumour mill keeps on turning. Little else happens however and the story feels rather thinly spread. The play fails to bring together all its disparate elements – comedy, mystery, teen romance - and struggles to find its tone. Opportunities are also missed to make use of the clearly talented ensemble with the many static chatroom scenes. Moreover these slow the piece down to the pace of the bloggers’ typing, rather than moving the story forward as they should.

Mouth, by contrast, is brimming with action and much clearer in its intentions. Ethan and Mia, Sarah’s missing siblings, have set off to find their father but are shipwrecked off the English coast and captured. In England the regime keeps control by dictating what comes out of people’s mouths. No one is allowed to speak the old language and instead speaks “gag”. This limited but highly vivid language - a dictionary has become a “diction canary”- provides a great source of comedy.

Mia, played with a convincing mix of humour and emotion by Sarah Middleton, is rescued by a group of dissidents who go on to lead an attack on the dastardly Zemor (Kate Kennedy), the leader of the regime. With excellent direction from Andy Burden, the ensemble’s skills come into their own in some lively portrayals of the opening shipwreck, life in the totalitarian state and the final combat scenes. The siblings are reunited and the old regime falls. The young people may not have answers to Zemor’s questions about how they will stop people fighting and keep everyone happy but the final song, Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”, leaves the audience with the feeling that somehow it will all come good.

A lot of people have worked very hard to bring Foot/Mouth to the stage. The writing may be a little patchy but the costumes by Nicola Fletcher, the design by Chloe Lamford and the lighting by David W. Kidd each deserve a mention. Above all however the enthusiasm and efforts of the young cast make the show worth a visit.

- Louise Gooding


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