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Decades review at Ovalhouse, London – ‘evocatively brought to life’

The Bridge Company's Decades at Ovalhouse, London. Photo: Richard Davenport The Bridge Company's Decades at Ovalhouse, London. Photo: Richard Davenport
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It begins with the hum of an electric speaker – the single sound that could come from any decade in the last 10. And watching Decades is not unlike listening to someone tune a radio – we skip mid-sentence between scenes from the present day to 1916, and everywhere in between.

A couple fight during a football game in 1996. Newly-weds share an evening with their screaming baby in 1956. A society girl is betrayed by a friend in 1928. Having focused on a single teenager in Boy at the Almeida Theatre, Leo Butler focuses on teenagers through the decades (even those that predate the term’s 1940s invention) in this play for Bridge – a young company of BRIT School acting graduates.

Director Eva Sampson uses this large and talented young company to smash cut effectively between the snapshots of these different eras, but struggles to unify the many strands that Butler wants to investigate. An early section contrasting Top 40 radio presenters from across the years sings but a later selection of political speeches drops the focus on British youth, and the second half is disrupted and extended by satirical songs by Butler that feel like generic cabaret pieces – historical overview rather than carefully-excavated drama.

Giles Thomas’ sound design is the highlight of Decades, spinning tracks from every era (cue obligatory cast rendition of Bowie in this year of lost greats) flicking between an onstage television or radio to the entire auditorium – the legacy of each generation assembled from treasured sonic memories.

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Slightly meandering portrait of teenagers through the last century evocatively brought to life