sun 31/05/2020

I and You, Hampstead Theatre review - now streaming online, this YA play is oddly pertinent | reviews, news & interviews

I and You, Hampstead Theatre review - now streaming online, this YA play is oddly pertinent

I and You, Hampstead Theatre review - now streaming online, this YA play is oddly pertinent

Head to Instagram for a 2018 production with plenty of 2020 shutdown wisdom

Poetry, please: Anthony (Zach Wyatt) introduces Caroline (Maisie Williams) to Walt WhitmanManuel Harlan

The way that theatres and other arts institutions have leapt into action over the past week, providing a wealth of material online and new ways to connect with audiences, has been truly inspirational.

The way that theatres and other arts institutions have leapt into action over the past week, providing a wealth of material online and new ways to connect with audiences, has been truly inspirational. Yesterday, the Hampstead Theatre re-released on Instagram a recording of its production of American playwright Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, specially filmed for IGTV and initially broadcast in 2018. It’s free until 22.00 on Sunday 29 March – and is well worth a watch.

All stories have been recontextualised by the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent shutdown (have actors in TV dramas always touched their faces that much? Shudder!). The most obvious aspect of I and You to suddenly resonate is that its teenage protagonist, Caroline (Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, pictured below with Zach Wyatt), is trapped at home due to a serious illness, severely disrupting her schoolwork and social life. Cut off from the outside world, she relies heavily on social media.

Williams makes a confident stage debut here under Edward Hall’s direction, as does Zach Wyatt playing classmate Anthony, who visits her to collaborate on an American lit project about poet Walt Whitman. Over 90 minutes, the pair awkwardly spar: well-meaning Anthony offering up an eager love of Whitman and a terrible poster that clearly requires saving, plus waffle fries, while the suspicious Caroline struggles to overcome her learned defences when it comes to people viewing her as the “sick” girl.I and You, Hampstead Theatre

“My body hates me, my house hates me, and here you come with homework,” laments Caroline – quite possibly speaking for a nation of frustrated youngsters suddenly facing weeks of nebulous home schooling. Gunderson is one of America’s most produced playwrights, and her empathetic portrait of adolescence should make this a popular piece among young-adult viewers in particular (the age guidance is 14+). The Hampsteads crisply shot Instagram version, presented in two videos, is accessible and engaging, with judicious use of close-ups and split screen (pictured below) to keep us in touch with both characters and their impact on one another.

Gunderson’s work also speaks to our current uncertainty about the future. Though the pair, who  occupy that strange middle ground between child and adult lives, swap dreams and ambitions, there is an unspoken awareness that Caroline’s condition means there are no guarantees. Their project on Whitman’s use of pronouns is a nice runner alongside their growing attraction, with a fumbling teenage grasp of what it really means to be an “I” or a “we”.I and You, Hampstead TheatreThe play’s preaching about technology versus reality is rather eye-roll-inducing (and at odds with this streaming format), but the yearning for human contact, for connection, would fell the most cynical amongst us in the current climate. Rather lovely, too, is the teen wonder in discovering their experiences reflected, heightened and articulated by art – yet another reason why we need to support our industry in any way we can during this shutdown, so that we don’t risk losing such a vital means of understanding ourselves and the world around us.

The claustrophobia of Caroline’s cluttered bedroom, with Michael Pavelka’s collage-like set fitting a hundred fragments of her identity into a small space, is intensified by the filming, which pushes us into the tight framing, and Gunderson’s intimate two-hander is well-suited to this medium. If the visual impact of her big climatic reveal is somewhat muted by our limited view, compared to the immersive experience of being in the theatre, its emotional power is still impressive.

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” wrote Whitman – a line that gains a whole new resonance from the play’s stirring twist. It also reads differently now, speaking to a community that must separate physically for the good of all, but that longs to stay connected at least in spirit. Wonderful initiatives like the Hampstead’s will help us do that.

@mkmswain

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