REVIEW: FRESHER (Pleasance Courtyard) ★★★★

2016FRESHER-PH-300Fresher is a play written by two teachers from Uppingham School in Rutland and performed by students from the school. Starting life as a school drama project, it is a new play inspired and performed by young people about to head off to university.

Fresher is set in an unnamed UK university on the Monday after Freshers’ Week. Ten students have been summoned to attend the Rehabilitation and Welfare Centre as a result of their behaviour during the previous week. Concerned at their actions and the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others, the university has required them to demonstrate that they understand that their actions were unacceptable and support each other to do the same. If they cannot do this, then their university days are over.

Each student has received a letter detailing their behaviour which they must read aloud to their peers. The group must then act out the deeds in a version of drama therapy. The play addresses a range of challenging subjects and tragic tales through these characters responding to the freedom of university life: sexual indiscretions, alcohol and drugs, cyber bullying, grief, racism, sexism, self-harm, hacking and the challenges of living as a young carer.

The cast of ten create these students before us, forced together to face their demons. The tension mounts as each student declares their wrongdoing. Accusations fly and opinions differ; some are unwilling to accept that they have done anything wrong; others are ashamed of their actions. We find ourselves wondering what those yet to speak have done.

This play addresses the challenges faced by teenagers today in an unflinching way made all the more compelling as it’s performed by young people about to head off to university. There’s some great young talent to be seen here and the production is also raising money for Young Minds, a charity specialising in mental health services for young people. Fresher is so much more than a school play.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans