Chrysalis review: I'd Rather Humble Than Hero and HEADZ (4 stars)

A strong argument for the quality of youth performance

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Chrysalis review: I'd Rather Humble Than Hero and HEADZ

HEADZ / credit: Robin Mitchell

Youth Theatre Arts Scotland’s inaugural Chrysalis Festival at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre has been designed as a turning point for the UK youth theatre scene. Until now, youth theatre productions have been commonly considered to be outside of the critical purveiw afforded to the professional companies, but the Chrysalis programme, bringing together four of the United Kingdom’s premier youth theatre companies, submits a formidable challenge to this assumption.

The festival kicks off with I’d Rather Humble Than Hero, an original devised show from Tramway’s acclaimed Junction 25 that addresses the harmful effects of a highly-commercialised, highly-sexualised popular culture on young people’s mental health. Making skilful use of multimedia to ape and subvert the garish aesthetics of consumerism, it’s a visually striking barrage on the senses, but it’s in the quiet moments of reflection that I’d Rather Humble Than Hero really comes to life. While the show is superficial in its social critique – it lampoons celebrity culture rather than examine its roots or consequences, these oases of reflection possess the unselfconscious sincerity that could be said to characterise the best youth performance.

I’d Rather Humble Than Hero’s lurid sensory overload is followed by the frank intimacy of 20 Stories High’s HEADZ, a moving triptych of monologues that offers a tender insight into adolescent Liverpool life. Keith Saha’s thoughtful script, by turns poignant and drily comic, is the central focus of the show, and it’s animated by a trio of impressive performances. Paislie Reid, in particular, shines as Emma, powerfully capturing the nuances of a warm but frustrated 20-year-old struggling to deal with a tempestuous home life. While there are some pacing issues, the cast’s touching portrayals of the likeable yet complex characters make for a rewarding theatrical experience.

The two shows mix of technical flair and creative passion is a resounding affirmation of the value and quality of the work young artists are capable of. Presenting a programme of interesting and engaging theatre without qualification, Chrysalis emphatically argues for youth theatre’s place within the critical discussion.

Traverse Theatre, Fri 6 & Sat 7 Nov

Chrysalis

Chrysalis festival brings together theatre companies from across the UK for a weekend of youth theatre.

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