Young people and politics. It’s a subject I’m well versed in as I was once a young man, embroiled in all manner of revolutionary brickbatting and riotous assemblies – and well before I turned 18.
As for party politics though…I didn’t have a good word to say about any of them. I marked the first election in which I was eligible to vote by walking into my old junior school (because it was a polling station, not because I wanted a nostalgic ramble across the parquet) and scrawling “HANDS OFF LIBYA!” across my ballot paper (the US had just bombed Tripoli). Then I tripped lightly home, my mind fizzing with anti-establishment delirium before settling down to Findus Crispy Pancakes with a SodaStream chaser. Probably.
It’s now nearly 30 years since that historic defacement, and something of that youthful rage can be discerned in the Liverpool Everyman’s Until They Kick Us Out. Devised and performed by Young Everyman Playhouse, or the boldly affirmative ‘YEP’ as they’re better known, the show is a huge ensemble piece that churns with argument and emotion, sometimes very raw. It’s only a couple of months since it first appeared on this stage, but as its central theme is young people’s political engagement, or perhaps their lack of it, it’s been hastily refreshed for election week and is back for three nights only.
Until They Kick Us Out is about young people who think their voice isn’t being heard. They feel their generation’s reputation for screen-based emotional anaesthesia is a slander which they don’t deserve and, having been given the run of this theatre for a few nights, they’re going to make sure we hear them speak.
A little like last year’s stunning YEP show The Grid, this production involves an amorphous mass of skinny-jeaned youth operating as a single organism which can divide, separate and reform at will. In Until They Kick Us Out, they sometimes speak with one voice, while at other times an individual or two will be released from the group to deliver a monologue or a sketch before being subsumed once again in the whole.
For a show with no plot, in which a seemingly random series of questions, feelings and ideas are given voice, it remains remarkably cohesive and compelling. The cast move around the stage like neurons firing, their speeches and declamations flipping from subject to subject like the free-flow of thoughts in an enquiring mind. Whether they’re getting worked up about the price of Freddo chocolate bars, the death of the Suffragette Emily Davison or the closed doors behind which party politics operate, the structure they’ve built proves sturdy enough to carry the full weight of their bafflement at the world and their aspirations for how things could be.
If the impressive group choreography gives this show a sense of spectacle, it’s the power of personal testimony that gives it real depth. At times, these individual stories – fragments of the cast members’ real lives – sent tingles up my spine. There’s Natalia, the young East European who left family life behind just seven months ago to “live her dream” in the UK. Her chastisement of her peers for simply marking time is a moment of both discomfort and inspiration. And then there’s Mark, whose story of homophobic assault on his 18th birthday hangs in the air like a whispered “J’accuse” against the society that we have made.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Until They Kick Us Out is the way that YEP have woven its themes into the life of the city as it heads towards the general election. Though the show is plot-free, it does feature an evolving motif: in the play’s world, the cast create their own political party – the Really Sound Party – dedicated to giving young people a voice. And in the actual world of Liverpool’s Wavertree constituency, YEP member Niamh McCarthy is really standing for election under the same banner. She isn’t going to win of course, but it’s a brave and fascinating step for Niamh and the group to take – translating their creative endeavours into actions on the political stage.
Directed by Matt Rutter and Chris Tomlinson, but brought to life by YEP’s young actors, technicians and communicators, Until They Kick Us Out gives the lie to the notion that young people aren’t interested in politics; it appears that they most definitely are, as long as it has a small ‘p’. But it does argue that the established parties aren’t listening – that perhaps they are the ones who are disengaged rather than the other way round.
You don’t have to agree with everything the performers say in order to respect what they’re saying, but when the arguments are delivered with as much humour, warmth and passion as this, you’ll find yourself wanting to hear more in spite of yourself. It’s a tremendous production – a stage stripped bare except for 30-plus young people and their voices – that builds to a synapse-busting climax: the final two minutes form the most exhilarating sequence this stage has seen since the Everyman reopened last year.
Until They Kick Us Out might be a political argument, or it might be a massive two fingers to us all. But then that was exactly what my “HANDS OFF LIBYA!” was too. And although I’ve placed my cross on many ballot papers in the intervening years, I’m not sure I’ve ever done it with quite that much passion since.
Photos by Brian Roberts
What: Until They Kick Us Out
Where: Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
When: Until April 30, 2015