I had no excuse to miss this one. Everyone* had been raving about This Beautiful Future at this tiny little place called the Yard, which happens to be not-very-long-on-the-bus away from where I live. I had to go. I mean, I wasn’t threatened with physical violence, but it was going to happen.
I can’t lie, I wasn’t instantly enamoured with it. I was sat in this space – new to me, smelling of wood and heat, in the middle of the fecking Stratford hinterlands – and suddenly there are two people introduced via surtitles saying hello to the audience. The play starts and there’s karaoke and a girl running around the stage and a boy in the bed and a whole cacophony of things, set and sound and light and human.
All this confusion then stops abruptly. For the next half an hour we’re witnessing an encounter between aforementioned boy and girl, in August 1944, in the north of France. He – Otto – is a 15-year-old German soldier, she – Elodie – is French and a couple of years older. And I found them so unbelievably annoying, until I remember that teenagers are unbelievably annoying, and then it dawned on me that I was watching the most convincing teenage performances I’ve probably ever seen. Both actors (Hannah Milward and Bradley Hall) give beautifully observed and articulated performances that so perfectly capture teenage awkwardness and sexuality it actually pisses me off.
Rita Kalnejais’ script is sparse, short bursts of rhythmic language with massive gaps of awkwardness in between. It looks like Annie Baker on the page but it seeks to stretch rather than emulate reality. Basically, for 45 minutes I was enjoying every element of the production (directed by Jay Miller) separately but still wasn’t convinced.
Then there’s part two (Kalnejas’ script is split into 5 parts rather than scenes) and the cacophony of ridiculousness makes sense. The parts start to telescope and collapse in on each other. Linearism goes out the window. The production starts to cohere; as the narrative fractures, the disparate elements of the production are drawn together as the lives of the characters disintegrate.
OH AND THEN there’s an absolutely gorgeous bit at the very end. Just as you think the world of the play has become incredibly bleak, Miller releases joy back into the room in the form of *SPOILER* tiny little chicks. They flap onto the stage, apparently so delicate we’re not allowed to applaud until they’ve been rounded back up. Although this is a dark play, and upsetting things happen, it’s done with imagination and joy and a sense of fun and humour. It’s also – to its credit – done with a sense of unabashed and unashamed romance. You do find yourself grinning at this couple, even if they are fecking annoying, and even though we know that whatever they share cannot last, for any number of reasons we conjure in our heads.
I’ve thought a lot about the title. This Beautiful Future. Three different emphases, this – belonging to who? Beautiful – what about it? Neither of the characters’ stories end particularly well. And Future. What future? This play only exists in the present – by which I mean the only thing that happens in reality is the night in the bedroom. Everything else, the aftermath, potential futures and thoughts, it’s all filtered through microphones. It’s just voices, once removed. It’s real, or at least feasible, but it achieves 2 things. The first is that what Elodie and Otto describe through the mics is made all the more horrifying; with no physicality to distract us from the text it becomes far more upsetting. The second is that is reinforces the idea that it’s only the ‘present’ i.e. the night in the bedroom that really matters. As if, that night made what came next worth it.
And the idea of future, and utopia. Elodie seems more contemporary, she doesn’t care about anything. She’s indifferent towards everything, ambivalent even. Her only absolute conviction is in that moment with Otto. Otto, on the other hand, ties his future to an ideology and teenage, male(?) idealism. And as much as we like Otto, it’s impossible to separate him with the regime he represents with passion. He may well be in the war because of desperation, but his conviction in his beliefs is as strong as Elodie’s indifference. And of course, she knows the Nazis have as good as lost the war in France. Otto has no idea.
It’s a short, sharp, romantic, joyous piece that bounces ideas around, grounded by a couple of brilliant performances. I can’t believe I haven’t talked about how they got the audience to sing along to Someone Like You. I liked it a LOT.
*here’s some of the pieces, all of which are better than mine: http://darkerneon.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/this-beatiful-future-or-how-i-forgave.html, http://postcardsgods.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/this-beautiful-future-yard-theatre.html, Meg Vaughan’s newsletter.
Photo by Richard Lakos.