Reviewed – 28th March 2018
“cleverly engages with two of the central paradoxes of modern urban teenage life”
Commissioned as part of a three year exploration into the impact of child loneliness, Random Selfies is a product of Ovalhouse’s continued commitment to community outreach. The playwright, Mike Kenny, was Arts Council England’s first recipient of The Children’s Award for Playwriting for Children and Young People, and it is gratifying to see such investment in theatre made specifically for a target audience of 7-13 year olds. On a dismal rainy March morning, it was a treat to sit in a theatre packed with enthusiastic kids – three local school parties filled the house – and take in their reactions first hand.
Random Selfies has no plot to speak of; instead, it takes us into the life and head of one teenage girl – Loretta (Natalia Hinds). Loretta, or Lola, as she prefers to be known – given that Loretta doesn’t even make it to the top 100 girls names on Google – lives with her Mum and her brother Carlton, and has recently got her room all to herself, as her older sister is no longer there. She has an upstairs neighbour – Mrs Thing – who she occasionally visits, and, during the course of the piece, makes a new friend at school – Maya. It is a one woman show, and the other characters in the story are variously brought to life through Loretta’s storytelling, and the judicious use of animation.
Rachana Jadhav’s production design is absolutely terrific. Loretta’s bedroom is instantly recognisable to anyone who has stepped into a teenage girl’s room in the last few years, and the illustrated animations are breathtakingly beautiful throughout, providing a whimsical visual counterpoint to the everyday nature of the room itself. Natalia Hinds makes an engaging and relatable Loretta, though her other characters (Mum, Mrs Thing and Maya in particular) needed more vocal colour and definition to allow us to really see them. Similarly, some of the more lyrical passages would have benefited from a gear change in vocal energy.
Mike Kenny’s script cleverly engages with two of the central paradoxes of modern urban teenage life – in particular the invisibility of the self in selfie culture, and the feeling of loneliness in an overcrowded city – and is also particularly good when exploring the gut-wrenching feeling of being trapped in a lie which gets out of control. There is a difficulty however, in treating these subjects through the persona of a young girl so entrenched in current girlie preoccupations – makeovers in particular. It would have been interesting to hear the reactions of the boys in the audience to these sections of the story. Brilliantly, Ovalhouse provides a free ninety minute workshop to all classes who see the production, so all these young people’s voices can be heard. Random Selfies will most definitely be the starting point for some animated conversations, and perhaps too will encourage our next generation of creative talent. What could be better for a stimulating Easter holiday outing?
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Ovalhouse until 7th April