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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Burn - Chatroom - Citizenship
Cottesloe Theatre Spring 2006; CHATROOM/CITIZENSHIP revived Autumn-Winter 2007

 Three one-act plays developed in the National Theatre's programme of plays by established writers for teenage audiences are here given full professional productions. They're being performed in rotating pairs, with only a very few showings of all three at once, but since two clearly stand out, your choice shouldn't be difficult.

Deborah Gearing's Burn mixes a documentary-style structure with a mythic tone to follow a lonely teenager on his route to suicide. In what would be on TV a series of talking-heads interviews, everyone who crossed his path on his last day describes the encounters.

Each episode is insignificant in itself - a fight with one guy, an attempt to chat with one girl - but they add up to a touching portrait of an unhappy boy particularly sensitive to the unhappiness of others even when they won't admit it themselves.

At the same time Gearing shows how the boy that none of them really knew is beginning to become a local legend in their minds.  Anna Mackmin's direction balances the two styles effectively, and Andrew Garfield is moving as the nearly inarticulate boy.

Enda Walsh's Chatroom approaches a similar topic from another angle, as six actors just sitting on chairs and talking create the world of teenagers up all night at their computers, creating a false sense of community through anonymous chatrooms.

When a depressed boy comes online seeking support, he finds a mixture of ineffectual sympathy, sincere attempts to help and sadistic manipulation. Though the play cops out with a sentimental ending, along the way it captures not only the boy's very real unhappiness but also the personalities that slip through the anonymity of the others, from the nice kids to the geek revelling in the ability to think faster than the others.

Again Andrew Garfield scores as the potential suicide, making the most of a couple of lovely self-exposing speeches on the nature and roots of the boy's unhappiness, while Matt Smith is chilling as a loser grasping hungrily at the opportunity for power.

Surprisingly Mark Ravenhill's Citizenship proves to be the most conventional and least evocative (or provocative) of the three. It's the frequently comic tale of a teenager unsure of his sexuality, who tries sex with a girl and with a guy, makes his choice and yet seems almost as unresolved as he was before.

There's a lot of fun along the way, but Ravenhill seems to have aimed lower than the others, producing a play that feels like a classroom-discussion-provoking exercise rather than a real exploration of the topic. Indeed, the play is so full of unexplored subthemes, from white kids trying to act black to both boys and girls settling for considerably less than they deserve in romance, that you feel it should come with a discussion guide. 

Sid Mitchell can't do much with the central character who is just there to illustrate the topic, though Matt Smith as a pothead and Richard Dempsey as an overworked teacher score in comic cameos.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Burn, Chatroom, Citizenship - National 2006