REVIEW: YEAR 10 (Tabard Theatre) ★★★★

year-tenSaturday night saw me head along to the Tabard Theatre, in Chiswick. The ”bijou” theatre played host last week for 3 nights only, to the Just AddMilk Theatre company, presenting a condensed version of their show “Year 10” which sold out its run in Edinburgh earlier in the year. The company was founded by 3 students of the Arts Educational School (conveniently located next door) whilst studying, all 3 of whom appeared in the play – Kyle Rowe, Niall Burns & Kristian Wall). Based on their sell out runs in Edinburgh and at the Tabard, and the standing ovations, they certainly have a bright future ahead.

YEAR 10, (first performed at The Finborough in 2005) by Simon Vinnicombe, is an emotionally charged tale of teenage angst, following the story of our troubled young protagonist Jack (Niall Burns) as he battles his own (many) demons, as well as trying to navigate a burgeoning football career whilst dealing with the triple whammy traumas of acne, young love and increasingly violent drug pushing bullies. It is incredibly well written, with so many characters recognisable to many of us from our school days. Given that it was a condensed one act version, it was impossible to delve as deeply into each character as one would have liked, but we were given a whistlestop overview of the full piece, which left all watching wanting for a full length version.

The performances were uniformly brilliant, with not a weak link in the cast. Danny Fitsimmons and Kristian Wall were excellent in their portrayals of teenage bullies, blindly following their leade. The completely unhinged Wes, played with increasing violent menace by Kyle Rowe, shines a light on the mob mentality which seems to be accepted as “the norm” these days, and leaves teachers and police virtually powerless to stamp it out. The EXCELLENT Dylan Morris plays Jamie, abused by her step dad, and at the mercy of bullies Wes and Jon. We feel so sorry for her character, the love interest who sympathises with Jack and what it feels like to be broken inside and her scenes with Burns as Jack are tender but ultimately tragic. The physicality of all the teenagers was fantastic – awkward, hormone driven youths, living in broken, bleak, Britain, although perhaps a touch less of the genital grabbing from the boys would have been in order – it did get distracting after a while..! Alex Millan was great as the teacher who tries to step in and help Jack stand up to the bullies, but ends up losing his job as the result of a momentary lapse of judgement (which every single audience member would have forgiven him for – these bullies are repulsive). Seasoned pro Nicole Faraday brought gravitas to the young cast, playing the role of Jack’s mother, Susan, struggling with her new status as a single Mum, trying to raise her son in a new (poverty stricken) environment, and dealing with the repercussions of a recent divorce, won’t stop crying and listening to Nina Simone. Faraday’s command of the stage, (including not even flinching when an audience member suddenly upped and left for the loo during a heartfelt scene with Jack), and her heartbreaking scene at the end, left the audience in bits, and wanting this poor poor woman to catch a lucky break. Knowing that no-one was being paid, it was great to see an award winning actress of Faradays standing, giving something back and supporting new talent. Niall Burns as Jack gave a particularly stand out performance. Angry, confused, bruised and battered (“I am like a disappointed old man and i’m only 15 years old”) and with the weight of the world on his shoulders, Burns never let his energy or passion slip, making his eventual decline even more impactful.

The space didn’t allow for much in way of staging, but director Toby Lawrence used its potential to its upmost, shifting the scene from playground to schoolroom, to living room without asking us to stretch our imaginations too much, aided by simple yet clever lighting by Jack Greenyer.

Listening to the audience leaving after a full standing ovation, this exciting new team are definitely worth watching out for, and I sincerely hope a transfer of “Year 10” is on the cards. Fleshed out and fully realised, this powerful, devastating play will be uncomfortable to watch, but fascinating, particularly with the talented group of actors assembled for this production.

Reviewed by Ciaron White