The past 18 months have proved among the most turbulent in recent British history. Yet this is the timespan chosen by theatre company Headlong for its bold research initiative Headlong Futures, which shapes this future state-of-the-nation community play around the hopes, views and despairs of four assorted generations stretching the length and breadth of the country.
The company’s outreach teams worked at Theatre Royal Plymouth with ex-military family members aged 21 to 75, at Bristol Old Vic with 23 youngsters from one of the city’s most deprived estates, at Kendal’s Brewery Arts with senior citizens from isolated rural communities and a community group aged from 12 to 82 at New Perspectives in the East Midlands.
Now, playwright Stef Smith – best known for her uncompromising work Roadkill – has blended their stories into this thought-provoking polemic play, performed with both skill and humour by 36 non-professional actors from the contributing research groups.
The framework is the path all four divergent groups take to a mass protest march against fracking, focusing on their anger at what they have inherited, but also climaxing with a rousing community anthem that is strong, but not brimming over with hope.
The best storyline follows an academically talented Bristol schoolgirl struggling to get a university place because of her deprived background. On the down side though, the use of a leaking Plymouth harbour craft as a metaphor for a floundering nation is less successful.
Director Rob Watt has done a sterling job in uniting the four threads, which were originally rehearsed separately, while Hector Murray’s razor-sharp lighting is essential in focusing on the individual story strands.