They say youth is wasted on the young, but in today’s modern society, with unlimited internet access and self-worth measured in social media likes, do the young really have their youth to begin with? Natives, written by Glenn Waldron and directed by Rob Drummer at the Southwark Playhouse, takes an innovative look at how life affects young people today.
Three actors tell three different stories concurrently, there’s no convergence of the plot but there’s some cleverly placed recurring themes and interaction between the cast. Save for a few moments, all are on stage throughout, with only a moss-covered boulder for company, while the floor of the stage is brought to life with projections from above.
Three teenagers each experiencing, but not celebrating, their fourteenth birthdays, in very different ways. We never learn their names, they are referred to in the script simply as A, B and C. One is a spoiled rich kid, trying desperately to escape the trappings of Prada and Gucci, wanting to be the child she really is. Another finds it difficult to confront grief, mind warped with online violence and porn. The third, realises the reality of his war-torn city is very different from his video games, and the agony of having to face up to it.
Their stories may be very different, but the issues they face are remarkably similar, and these concerns are explored in a compelling way through the writing.
The cast are quite exceptional, Ella Purnell captures the ‘mean girl’ vibe perfectly, and in later scenes really exposes the insecurities of the character. Manish Gandhi manages to garner some of the bigger laughs, in what can be quite a funny play in places, despite having the most traditionally dramatic story to tell. Fionn Whitehead has perhaps the most difficult task, but more than succeeds in bringing out the vulnerability of his character.
The staging may be fairly simple, but it looks stunning, really strong lighting and sound design combine with well-crafted movement to create a beautifully formed piece. Natives is a high-energy production that ticks plenty of boxes, not least the fascinating nature of the stories and the way they are told by a strong cast. I’m tempted to say “Five Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes, Five Thumbs Up or Five Instagram Hearts” but at just over twice the age of the protagonists, I’ll stick to “five stars” instead.