zero-for-the-young-dudes
Pull the plug: image via National Theatre Connections

Written by Alistair McDowall
Directed by Joe England
Performed by Lowry Young Company
The Lowry
27th-28th February 2017

This review was originally published on the MTA site here.

There’s political chaos on both sides of the Atlantic and ‘millennials’ are slated daily in the media. Why won’t young people look up from their phones and become politically engaged?

In Zero for the Young Dudes! we enter a world where they have done just that. The young have rebelled against the old, hoping for a better future, but have ended up in brutal prison camps. The Lowry Young Company’s talented actors give us a portrait of a broken generation under the thumb of invisible authorities, forced into hard labour and desensitised to terrible violence.

Standalone scenes are connected by a single thread: the hand grenades which are being covertly passed around the camp. Some of the performances are astonishingly good: one very chatty inmate is a comedy highlight, showing instinctive timing as she tries and fails to stop talking. Giggles erupt from the audience when the young cast swear and light up cigarettes with a world-weary air. The pair who, in between confused ramblings about sex, commentate gruesomely on their target practice, draw just the right amount of shocked laughter with their difficult-to-pitch scene. And at the other end of the scale, it’s beautifully touching to watch two girls covertly and timidly practice the tiniest act of human intimacy.

However, a few scenes near the beginning fall flat, needing more robust direction, such as when the actors rush through difficult lines about economic stability, or when they recite their ‘pledge’ to the camp – surely we should get some sign that they don’t believe these platitudes? The script only gives us hints about what has brought these young people to this terrible place – these should be delivered more carefully and thoughtfully at times. Another unfortunate thing is that, while the sparse, adaptable set believably creates a world of utilitarian bareness, the sound design is a tad clunky, jolting us out of that world every so often.

Zero for the Young Dudes! builds gradually to a momentous climax, gathering energy right up to the last second. Yet, while much of the production is well-executed and the whole thing is enjoyable and funny, it doesn’t live up to its full potential. Like the much-maligned millennial, it needs to engage a little more. Its humour – though sparky, memorable, great – has come at the expense of some necessary seriousness.

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