REVIEW: Natives, Southwark Playhouse ✭✭✭✭

Book tickets for Natives at Southwark Playhouse

Ella Purnell, Fionn Whitehead, Manish Gandhi. Photo: Richard Davenport

Natives
Southwark Playhouse
13 April 2017
Four stars
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Thanks to the internet and social media, the pressures on teenagers today is greater than ever. In his new play Natives, Glenn Waldron captures the anxieties and perplexities of puberty through the intertwining monologues of three 14-year-olds. Although they live in different countries and never meet, there are recurring parallels in their responses to what happens to them on one particular day.

One is a high-achieving girl from an affluent family living on an island in the Indian Ocean, who is trying to find her way in a bitchy world of shifting hierarchies based on what you wear and how many followers you have. Another is a British lad struggling with bereavement and his emerging sexual feelings, distorted by the accessibility of hardcore porn on the internet. And then there is a third teenager who is navigating school and family life in a Middle Eastern city that has been devastated by war. His passion for video games and anxiety about school tests links him emotionally with the other two children even though he also has to deal with seeing death and destruction on the streets where he lives.

Book tickets for Natives at Southwark Playhouse

Fionn Whitehead and Ella Purnell. Photo: Richard Davenport

They are all driven to points of crisis, with no signs of parents around to put things right. “Where are the grown-ups to do something?” they cry. As well as asserting that there are similarities in being a teenager wherever you are in the world, the rebelliousness of youth is placed in a timeless, mythic context by an opening scene where we hear the story of an ancient god whose abandoned daughter turns against him.

Thanks to strong performances, you are quickly drawn into the casually terrifying everyday life of these young people, which is often funny but at times deeply moving and unsettling. With slightly older actors playing the three roles, it features two rising stars: Ella Purnell stands out as the cliquey teen who is driven to the verge of destruction by social media while Fionn Whitehead powerfully depicts a boy whose masculine posturing hides a confused vulnerability.

With Manish Gandhi as the most childlike of the three 14-year-olds, they tell their heart-breaking stories through Glenn Waldron’s lyrical language, full of alliteration, poetry and verbal delight. Their words are inventively illustrated by bold colourful video graphics created by Cate Blanchard alongside designer Amelia Jane Hankin. Directed by Rob Drummer for Boundless Theatre, Natives is a sharply written chronicle of coming of age at a time when digital technology presents new challenges for young people but could also provide their salvation.

Running to April 22, 2017

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