TaY Talks promo image / royalexchange.co.uk
TaY Talks promo image / royalexchange.co.uk

Truth about Youth
Kate Reynolds
Royal Exchange Theatre
09 November 2015

Giving young people a voice: that was the remit of the Truth about Youth project, commissioned for 5 years at the Royal Exchange. The end of the project was marked by this show, a TED-style series of talks, videos, and one interval song – all linked by the question, “What are you passionate about?”

The young people involved answer it in many different ways, some by trumpeting social issues that affect them personally, others by enthusing about their love of trees or hatred of homework. The tone varies throughout from the light and comic to the very serious and very personal, at times within the same speech or video presentation, and the talks come hard on each other’s heels. Didn’t like that idea? Have another one, or an argument, or a joke, or a testimony. Go to the bathroom and another young person’s words are on the back of the stall doors. This is the message – young people, far from being the politically apathetic, inarticulate, and self(ie)-absorbed ruin of today’s society, are full of ideas, full of passion, and won’t be silenced.

Comedian Robin Ince hosts alongside young people from the TaY project, mocking himself as an “old man in a cardigan” and using a light touch to bring things together so that our focus stays on the speakers, filmmakers, and performers. The opening performance, with a group of young people parodying the image of useless teenagers by pretending to mess up their introduction in increasingly disastrous ways, is so spot-on that some of the audience don’t realise it’s a spoof. Evidently young people are cleverer than some may think.

While there are a few moments of forgotten lines or stumbled-over words, on the whole the performers are confident and professional, and there are many moments of touchingly personal testimony, from the film made by a Pakistani asylum seeker who talks about how the proposed child tax credit cuts would affect him, to the young trans man talking about how being forced to present as feminine in school is stifling his very identity, or the young women who describe the distressing street harassment they have faced. The comedy singer who regales us with a musical feminist tirade in the interval deserves a special mention, combining songwriting skill with a charismatic performance.

I don’t agree with all the ideas and arguments put forward in the evening’s talks – but that’s almost the point. I’m certain that the smorgasbord of opinion and passion we sample has already been the starting point for many discussions outside the Royal Exchange module about the things that matter to young people.