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Reviews / Plastic Fantastic: ‘sheer hard work’ pays off for youth theatre group

The Plastic Fantastic cast, back row (left to right): Bertie Summers, Heather Mowat, Florrie Hughson, Alfie Boyes, Freddie Archer, Lauryn Reid. Front row (left to right): Sophie Johnson, Martha Robertson, Keira Thomas, Isla Hughes, Kathryn Leask. Photo: Hermione Boyes

THERE was a load of rubbish at the Gulberwick Hall on Saturday – and I loved every minute of it, writes Kathy Hubbard.

Rubbish, and in particular plastic rubbish, was the inspiration for and the theme of Open Door Drama Youth Theatre’s summer project Plastic Fantastic … Not!, a 40-minute piece researched and devised by the company, and made performance-ready in under a week.

The energy and the confidence of the cast was a testament to the amount of sheer hard work and commitment that had clearly been brewing in the hall in such a short time.

“We started with an idea, a title, and a whole pile of plastic rubbish,” says director John Haswell, “and I’m delighted with what happened next.”

And so he should be. The company was also relieved to be working at last without Covid-19 restrictions (“the only bubbles in this show are in the bubble wrap”) which meant that they could fully engage with each other and with the audience.

Open Door Drama Youth Theatre’s summer project, affectionately known amongst themselves as The ODDYs, has only been together for a year, and this is their fourth project in that period (previous productions include Fionnuala Kennedy’s Hunt which they took to The Lowry Theatre in Salford as part of the National Theatre Connections scheme involving youth theatres from all over the country).

The piece began with a storytelling session, in which a young woman shares the tale of a fisherman from an island off the coast of Unst, whose reputation for being the best fisherman on the island is closely associated with the good fortune of his sailing companion, the family cat.

One day his luck runs out: there are no fish to be found. After a week of storms, he sets out again, in spite of the reluctance of the cat. But instead of finding fish, they encounter the legendary ‘monster of the deep’, The Kraken.

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The youngsters listening are unimpressed. Clad in plastic themselves (eerily reminiscent of the ubiquitous PPE of the Covid crisis) and devouring their snacks from a range of plastic containers, they find the whole thing far-fetched and irrelevant to their lives. They leave, discarding their plastic behind them.

This scene is followed by a fashion parade, where a range of plastic-contained goods and products are displayed on the catwalk, accompanied by the seductive (and entirely duplicitous) sloganeering of the advertising industry.

The emphasis is on ‘convenience’ and the easy clichés slide over any inconvenient truths. “Fifty percent recyclable! (What happens to the other fifty percent? Who cares…)”.

A redd-up episode follows in which a grumpy older man is taken to task for littering by two earnest young people (note – don’t ever get on the wrong side of Martha Robertson when she has an empty plastic bottle in her hand), and then by episodes that feature debates both casual and formal on the merits of recycling in which the arguments are rehearsed but are ultimately shrugged off.

After the briefest of intervals in which two ‘ushers’ attempt to persuade the audience to partake of theatre trays full of plastic wrapped snacks, there are further vignettes including a “What do you want for Christmas?” one which points up the sheer excess and proliferation of plastic goods; a very humorous trip to the supermarket where the family fall out over the use of plastic packaging (Bertie Summers excelling as Dad trying to be ‘reasonable’) and a hilarious depiction of a self-righteous family of bloggers – The Green Family – who fail to practise what they preach as soon as the camera is switched off.

And then we are back confronting The Kraken again, only this time it is the true ocean monster, not the mythical one, with a horrifying description of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mind-blowingly vast collection of plastic marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, which spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan, and which threatens not only marine life forms but the health of the planet itself.

The cast, liberated from the confines of the hall stage and from the tyranny (and, paradoxically, the security) of a script, carried the whole production off with commendable ease, maturity, and indeed exuberance, employing humour to its best effect, and presenting the facts about plastic proliferation without hectoring or finger-wagging.

Lord knows, the facts on their own are sobering enough. The set dressing and props were minimal (and all plastic, in a conscious nod to the irony of that fact) and the young actors had only their own talent and conviction to rely on, both of which were present in abundance.

The ODDYs have only been together for a year but based on this evidence I’m already eager to see what they tackle next.

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