The National Theatre's youth theatre festival, Connections, runs yearly around the country. Image via thecourieronline.co.uk
The National Theatre’s youth theatre festival, Connections, runs yearly around the country. Image via thecourieronline.co.uk

The Accordion Shop
Written by Cush Jumbo
Directed by Samantha Giblin
InterACT Youth Theatre
The Lowry Studio
Saturday 2nd May

Cush Jumbo’s play cuts choppily back and forth between the members of a torn-apart community in the aftermath of a teenage riot. InterACT Youth Theatre keep the pace up throughout as they head inexorably for a frenzied climax of looting and violence.

The 2011 London riots are the most obvious allusion, looming as they do in society’s recent memory, but this riot is different. It’s started by a mass text message, anonymous and ambiguous, and its exciting mystery is the one thing that can interest the shallow, bored teenage characters. Capturing this perfectly, the cast do an impressive job of being full of energy without appearing to try too hard (which would be uncool and unrealistic, obviously).

There’s a great sense of unity from a cast of widely differing ages, which helps them to deal smoothly with a couple of staging hiccups. The frustrated policeman, caught between the people he grew up with and superiors who don’t understand, is a gem of a part, and the young actor plays him well, picking out nuance and getting laughs without overdoing it. Good performances are also turned in by a prejudiced news reporter and a sweet old lady.

Mr Ellody, the owner of the titular accordion shop, sometimes rushes his lines – a hurdle that trips up a few other cast members too – and more focus could have been devoted to him at the climax of the play, when his furious actions lead to a disastrous ending. But overall, this is an enjoyable staging of the play which draws out both its humour and its dark side. Movement is used cleverly in the riot scenes, filling the stage with action, and we are left with a strong impression of the havoc wreaked by that single text message.

The Accordion Shop
Directed by Craig Sanders
Buxton Opera House Young Company
The Lowry Studio
Sunday 3rd May

This production takes things at a more measured pace, allowing us time to ponder the questions the script raises: just how dangerous are young people? How easily led? Are they worse than previous generations? The cast are a faceless mob in black hoodies with light-up trims, looming out of the dark corners of the stage to climb up and ransack the scaffolding frame that represents The Road. Their movements are slick and silent until they suddenly all begin shouting and screaming at once – an arresting moment. Another impressive feature is a video link between a small screen onstage and a smartphone being used to record the looting: of course somebody is filming it all.

The cast are strong and work together well, with Sam James standing out as an uptight Mr Ellody. It jars when some of the actors play both an adult character and a teenage rioter, meaning they have to shrug their hoodies half-off as they step into and out of the action. However, this clunky mechanic only happens a few times and in general the frequent cuts between different characters are handled well. A powerful production.

The Crazy Sexy Cool Girls’ Fan Club
Written by Sarah Solemani
Directed by Sophie Finnegan and Tara Daniels
Lowry Young Actors Company
The Lowry Studio
Sunday 3rd May

One Direction fans are the obvious inspiration for this play, which interrogates and satirises the idea of the teen ‘fangirl’. Lou, Gloria, Prancheeta and Jasmine are obsessed with The Band to the point of hysteria – another concept that has long caused feminists to raise a sceptical eyebrow – and new girl Jess finds a way to get their fan club closer to the boys than they ever could have dreamed.

Rather than mocking teenagers who are devoted to this or that singer, band or celebrity, the play shows fandom as a canvas onto which young people project their inner worlds. Gloria pours time into the fan club because of an unhappy home life, while Jasmine imagines a future TV career allowing her to interview the boys she idolises. By talking about The Band, they talk about themselves – just as we see their personalities emblazoned on their customised The Band t-shirts, each covered with their own doodles and slogans.

The five stars put in confident performances that start to show us these differences, although they could all go a little further to differentiate the characters from each other. In particular, Jess, who sees the fan club as an opportunity to “f**k with everything”, could be more developed as a distinct personality as she angrily pushes the play towards its rooftop climax.

The actors who play The Band have clearly watched enough One Direction interviews and concert footage to keep the satire sharp – and they perform live, rollicking through Boyzone’s ‘Picture of You’ with full foot-stomping dance routine. The whole cast, which includes a chorus of fellow fans, are well-rehearsed and bring out much of the comedy in the script. Except for a couple of slightly overlong blackouts, the whole thing is pacey and transitions are smooth. This is a confident stomp through the world of teenage fandom.

The Crazy Sexy Cool Girls’ Fan Club
Directed by Katherine Hughes
New Vic Youth Theatre
The Lowry Studio
Saturday 2nd May

This is a seriously contemporary play performed in a tight, sharp and very, very funny way by a brilliant young cast. The five girls who make up the fan club each show us their own distinct personality, and when they interact, the rapidly shifting dynamics are recognisable from any group of teenage girls. Power, adoration, aspiration: the girls put a heavy weight on The Band and, thanks to the young actresses’ skilled performances, we see how their own dreams and fears influence the way they view their idols. The Band themselves give perfectly-observed performances that hilariously parody teen idols such as One Direction without seeming overly smug. What with the slick and professional lighting and sound, the wonderfully girly yet minimalist set design, and that awfully catchy hit single that the boys perform again and again, this production is one that will stick in your head.

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