Louder was written, directed and performed by teenagers and is billed as ‘The first young people’s dramatic response to the 2011 riots’. I came to this production having gleaned what little I could from the Internet. There was not a programme and I certainly learned some facts about the production during the post show talkback that I could well have done with knowing upfront.
The show itself had a cast of thousands; well, over thirty anyway, many of them playing multiple roles. The play comprised innumerable short scenes that had a common theme – the riots, for which Summer 2011 will be forever remembered.
The piece was played out on a black box set that was well lit and great use was made of simple furniture, properties and costumes. I pause here to remember the moment that an apparently innocuous folding chair decided with, it appeared, very little encouragement from anyone else, to spectacularly self-destruct. The cast members on stage, although momentarily nonplussed, carried on like troupers. The hilarity in the wings at this turn of events, hinted at during the talkback, must have been priceless. I am sure that if a video camera was running at the time, as I suspect it was, then you will be seeing this moment on You’ve Been Framed sometime soon.
It was perhaps inevitable with such a large cast of young actors that there were some issues regarding pace and diction in delivery of the lines, such that some were lost, which was a pity. The production team were also not used to having such a large playing space and so some of the staging was a little naïve. In particular, the scene where a father visits his son in prison set the two protagonists so far apart that it turned into more of a tennis match for the audience.
Projected onto the back wall of the stage were various images, dates, quotations and statistics that greatly helped to link the scenes into a coherent whole. I did feel that when it came to the quotations and statistics I wanted to know the source of the particular factoid, even if it was only Wikipedia; it would have been nice to know.
The director of the play was Ross Levy and it must have been a logistical nightmare for him. A myriad of scenes, actors, scene changes etc. all passed without a hitch. This above all else displayed the hard work and discipline that were the bedrock of this production.
There were two themes that particularly struck a chord with me. Firstly, comparing the riots with the MPs' expenses scandal. If people with wealth and privilege can take what is not theirs then why not everyone? A timely reminder of what a corrosive episode the scandal was and is still.
Secondly, juxtaposing the riots of 2011 with the Olympics of 2012. The worst of Britain and the best in such a short time span. Projected on the back of the stage was the iconic image of the silhouette of a woman jumping from a burning building alongside Jessica Ennis with her gold medal. Good stuff.
Perhaps the real star of the show was the unseen Mr Pitts who was apparently 'too shy' to come onto the stage at the end. He has clearly earned the respect and affection of his pupils, a feat much harder than it used to be. So, even the post show talkback was left in the hands of the students. Suddenly there is no script and there have been no rehearsals. This was a risk, it could have been embarrassing or, worse, indulgent. But no, the risk was worth taking and it was handled with some maturity.
Finally, a postscript to the students of Rushcliffe School: I have never met Mr Pitts but I am sure he is not shy, just clever!
Louder was performed at Nottingham Arts Theatre on 6 October 2012