Connections made at Kilgraston School with National Theatre performance
Forty years ago, Sigourney Weaver wrestled with dangerous species inhabiting human bodies.
Fast forward to 2020 and that ‘dangerous species’ is an enemy every parent dreads; teenage mental illness
How do you approach the thorny issue of modern-day angst without alienating your audience?
‘The It’ by acclaimed playwright, Vivienne Franzmann, is how.
Set to a contemporary backdrop, the production exposes the kernel of anxiety that grows within troubled teen, Joy Fremantle.
Mythical beast ‘The It’ takes on a life of its own, slowly claiming its host.
Kilgraston School was selected to participate in the prestigious National Theatre Connections project and, along with a handful of other UK schools, pupils had to perform a designated play.
Primarily this would take place at their own school, followed (for those from Scotland) by a performance at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on March 25.
Finally, if chosen, pupils travel to London later in the year to perform infront of a paying audience.
“Joy, I’m not going to nag you, it’s your future,” bellows her father.
“Who was that child?” questions a teacher.
“Joy, Freemental,” scoffs a classmate.
The influences on the unhappy teenager’s life are the same as any you will find across the nation: parents, teachers, friends, classmates, social media. Normal day-to-day life.
But watch closely. This tale is a possible metaphor for any young person.
“There’s something growing in my belly,” Joy complains.
Of course, there isn’t, but what is present is the feeling of being anxious and overwhelmed by life.
The maw of direct correlation between Joy’s misery and her contemporaries’ increasing disinterest, opens up.
With her discomfort growing to “the size of a West Highland Terrier,” still nothing is done.
Many witness her downfall, but, crucially, fail to act, seeing their own experience as a singular observation, not fitting it into the greater jigsaw of Joy’s troubled life.
“She stopped coming to class.”
“She became very withdrawn.”
“She stopped communicating.”
The curtain comes down
At the very last minute, Joy discovers she is not alone. Dystopic references throughout the play give credence to the onset of anxiety.
Tragically though, it is too late. Dramatically, ‘The It’ claims its victim on the school’s sports field.
This was a delicate and perhaps, at times, sensitive topic to interpret.
However, the cast of 14 and 15 year olds addressed it head-on, handling their production with energy and insight. What could have been an uncomfortable hour was made entertaining with several comic touches – cardboard Instagram cut-outs and bossy teachers – lightening the mood.
National Theatre Director, Kash Arshad, was on hand to offer praise and advice.
Speaking after their performance, he told the girls: “This was a thoroughly engaging and strong interpretation of ‘The It’. It is a tough play, dealing with a tough subject, but there was a lovely mix of serious moments and humour, so it never felt too heavy or preachy.”
Entertainment with a serious message; don’t ignore what’s in front of you. Beauty may be skin deep but trouble reaches far further into the soul.
Lower Fifth pupils at Kilgraston performing Vivienne Franzmann’s ‘The It’ in the School’s theatre during February 2020
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