Review: Young Love at 53two “is a beautifully honest exploration of sexuality and gender”

You will find yourself involved, immersed and in admiration of Young Love...

Dare to Know Theatre is a great theatre company from Oldham, and they are dedicated to making work by Oldhammers for Oldhammers. With the recent closure of the much-missed Oldham Coliseum, they bring their work to the arches of 53two.

Given the wave of public sentiment and the fact that locals there have no theatre, you have to admire this team, as Coli’s associate artist company, they have not only decided that the show must go on, and continue to provide opportunities for young people, but they also have created a gem of a show, that is Young Love.

Jake Talbot wrote the piece, as he began the workshops, he realised just “how complex the issues are that young people are facing, the struggles that they’re facing in their home lives, and their love lives are incredibly complex.”

He is right and the piece explores what love is, the messy and tangled bits, the parts we share on social media and the things we bury deep inside. The ambition here is immense, as we witness grief and the love a young man has for his late brother, and how this threatens his relationship, as he has not told his girlfriend. We explore asexuality, through thoughts, feelings and the most natural and organic dialogue I have heard in years.

When you see a group of young people smiling and holding up a phone for a group selfie, have you ever thought about who wants to be in that picture? And what if one of them is incredibly popular but inside, they are navigating self-doubt, and feel that all of their friends are better looking and funnier than they are. And add domestic violence in their home into the mix. Dare to Know is an apt name for this company, as Young Love seeks out what lies beneath the façade of being young, minus the filters and emojis.

Ste Jackson and David Talbot’s set design is inventive, as it resembles an empty swimming pool. The cast sits on the sidelines and takes to the floor when their mini monologues or conversations begin. You feel as if you are listening to a variety of conversations on a bus, in a pub, in a school playground, or college canteen. It is really tough to write good dialogue, without it sounding like something you would hear in a play, but not in real life. Talbot manages to tap into the desires, dreams, ambitions, fears, grief and loss that these characters have faced, in a beautiful eruption of poetry, that pours out of them.

Miranda Parker’s direction is generous to this gifted cast, as there are 17 of them, but each member is part of a team, and they don’t compete for the floor, they simply deliver with everything they have and pass the baton onto the next, sitting on the sidelines, and willing each other on. And that is a thing of real beauty. We constantly read headlines about how young people are ungrateful, expect everything to be handed to them on a plate, and do nothing but stare at their phones, so this terrifically talented team convey such passion, and heartfelt emotion, amongst unexpected bursts of honest-to-god funny moments, that this subverts the stereotype without anger or a middle finger sticking up at you.

Every cast member deserves plaudits, as they have to convey complex themes and unfinished conversations, as this is not a traditional play. There are moments, whereby the decision to have an ensemble, talking over the main characters is clever, as it represents those voices of doubt, but it sometimes means that you might miss key pieces of dialogue. More projection or mics might help here, as the words being uttered are to be savoured.

As a daughter who is a carer for her dad gets ready to go out, Dad notices she has perfume on. He says: ‘You smell like Michelle Pfeiffer.” She replies: “How do you know what she smells like?” Nothing feels forced here, the lines flow naturally and everything has an easy quality, like listening to the late, great Tony Bennett, it feels effortless, even though you know behind the scenes, that this has taken huge amounts of graft from all involved. 

I loved the exploration of sexuality, gender and the expectations of society that comes with these labels. Jessie Leiper has some beautifully honest scenes, as Jennifer who is getting used to living life, as a young woman. She tires of having to “keep talking about herself”, as she is faced with a barrage of questions from people who knew her from before. It is the most honest depiction of transgender representation that you could wish to see on stage and it moved me to tears.

Paisley James, Amy Tara and Libby Hall ooze confidence and have natural stage presence, which means they convey as much through nonverbal performance, as they do through Jake Talbot’s memorable words. But there are no weak links here, as this is a group of actors who know how to do simply more than deliver lines; they have lived them, and you can see that.

Some may feel that the piece tries to cover too much in a two-hour time frame. But for me, the time flew by, as I found myself involved, immersed and in admiration of Young Love.

Young Love is at 53two tonight, and there are two performances tomorrow. It can be booked here and each ticket is ‘pay what you can’. 

If you are a first-time theatre goer, this is the type of play that will form habits – it’s that good. 

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