THE WAVE & (THIS ISN'T) A TRUE STORY, Almeida Young Company At The Rose Lipman Building
From 2016, Almeida Young Company have been steadily producing plays, working with two groups of young actors. This summer, their participants aged 14-18 are presenting Molly Taylor's The Wave and the older group (18-25) are staging Nina Segal's (This Isn't) A True Story.
Previous productions saw Luke Barnes debuting Loki and Cassie: A Love Story and Taylor's Cacophony, which both went on to gather major acclaim. Each year, the company promotes and nurtures young artists with the aim of creating a platform for experimentation and development. This time, the pair of shows tackle the role of communities and the power of numbers, shining a light on the positive and negative ways these can affect society.
The Wave sees a sociology class turn into a jarring experiment when Mr Turner (Ian Cameron) decides to explain the rise of fascism with unconventional means. It's an open discussion on how discipline and control affect people, and have the potential to lead them on paths where danger lies around every corner. Directed by Roberta Zuric, the play is energetic and dynamic: technology is naturally integrated in the performance, with even messaging systems being portrayed with specificity (for instance, very clever use of green lights coating the stage to symbolise texts sent through WhatsApp).
Taylor's message comes across clearly through the analogy with Milgram's study on obedience and the reaction to authoritative figures. By applying the method to a teacher/pupil relationship, she shows how easy it is for pride, belonging and loyalty to escalate. The young performers are extraordinary: there isn't a weak link in the chain mail, with the actors all working towards the same objective in a smooth ensemble.
The heat and lack of ventilation of the auditorium didn't deter them, nor the older cast, who held their own in their 1979 winter garments to portray the slightly odd but strangely relevant (This Isn't) A True Story. Set between the late 70s and the modern day, Segal's play tackles truth and conspiracy theories, directed by Joseph Hancock. The sardonic satire confronts how mass hysteria is easily set off, and how man's predisposition to suspicion can quickly turn into a witch hunt.
Reality and fiction are muddled from the start, with the cast going out of their way to remind the audience that what they're seeing isn't real. And yet, it is. In a back-and-forth between the American Midwest of the past and today's London, they draw a disconcerting comparison between elements born out of ignorance and paranoia in both eras. The function of communities and their influence on individuals is analysed again through different lenses, examining the detrimental aspects of people coming together and the spreading of uneducated concerns.
It's another successful enterprise for the Almeida, and they certainly need to be celebrated for the diverse choices they display with their Young Company. At the same time, the refreshing picture that they paint within this context unfortunately doesn't fully reflect the current state of the industry. One hopes that projects like this will act as water hollowing out a stone, through persistence rather than brutal force, to create theatre that represents today's society.