17 - Review

Emanating from the National Theatre's Connections programme that offers youth companies original scripts to work on, 17 is a short play that explores madness.

Whilst the plot is intriguing the piece is quite a flimsy one, more of an appetiser that leaves one wishing for something a little more meatier. No doubt it was a useful acting exercise for the members of the New Venture Youth Theatre to explore and experiment with but it lacked the substance and challenge that last year's production of The Good Woman of Setzuan presented.

Ella, a hitherto normal girl, is approaching her seventeenth birthday when she is suddenly visited by three sinister strangers who claim to be her relatives. This leads to the revelation of a secret held from her by her parents that certain members of their family inherit madness that manifests itself when they turn seventeen.

The story tells of her fight against becoming mad and of the acceptance of her new-found relatives as friends rather than foes.

This tale was well staged on a multi-level set and given a highly stylised interpretation with an older Ella, played by Hayley Everson, acting as narrator and looking back to the time of that fateful birthday.

In the principal roles of the young Ella and her friend, Jinny, Sophie Carr-Gomm and Helen Hudson give excellent performances. Both of them confirmed the promise that they showed in last year's production.

David Gandey, as Ella's Dad, had just the right air of bluffness and pomposity whilst the talented Kieran Burke appeared to be wasted in a role that merely required him to rant and shout

There was good support from the rest of the young cast and in particular by the ensemble who effectively provided the nightmare voices of Ella's anticipated madness. It was pleasing to note that the lack of projection, a problem in the past, seems to have been worked on by the director, Nick Beeby.

A creditable effort from a young company that is growing in confidence and maturity with each production it stages.

Barrie Jerram
12th March 2005