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NY youth with the gift of the gab... and a lot more!



Review by Paul Nelson

AN ABSOLUTE first for me is the American play This is Our Youth at the Garrick, inasmuch as it is the first play I have ever seen in which three young screen stars have presumably decided to strut their stuff and see how far they can succeed in London's West End.

Judging by the audience reaction, I need not give them the news that they have succeeded, they must know it by now, also that their success is probably beyond their wildest dreams.

As I waited before the show and looked at the mainly very young audience, I was praying that I would enjoy the play. It isn't every day a London theatre presenting a straight play gets an audience like this one seems to be attracting. No popcorn, no hot dogs, no chattering, but that was the sort of thing I would have expected from so youthful a group.

As it turned out they were as rapt as was I.

The play is fascinating. Whether 'our youth' of the title refers to our children or ourselves is not clear and does not matter. We have been through the growing up process and so have our older kids. What we are asked to watch is a trio of post adolescents struggling against the almost insuperable odds of a drug-fuelled society and trying to get on with it. The kids are not exactly rich but are from families that are not strapped for cash.

Dennis, for instance, in whose apartment the action takes place, sees himself as a big shot drug dealer, full of his own prowess, and his pad has been provided by his mother to get him out of her hair. In fact, he is just another punk amateur pusher, with his eye on the next buck, which will lead him on to the first million.

Still, he has a knowing charm, a sportsman's physique and the gift of the gab.

His friend Warren has escaped from his almost bent father, "he isn't a criminal he just mixes with them" and, having been thrown out has nicked $15,000 from a secret stash in his father's bedroom, refilling the case with old National Geographic magazines so the substituted weight won't give the theft away immediately. It is largely through his delightfully jejune attitude, which permeates all the characters, that the play is outstanding.

Jessica lives with her mother who is solicitous of her daughter and insists that she phone home every night to say at what decent hour she will return, and to tell with whom she is spending her free time.

This boiling pot provides one of the funniest first acts you will see at present in the West End.

Warren wants to have his way with Jessica, aided and abetted by Dennis. Dennis wants to have his way with his girlfriend, with whom he is having a love hate relationship. Jessica, finding herself deserted by her fellows on turning up at the apartment, wants to have a meaningful good time. That she is compliant is apparent when, while dancing with Warren, she breaks from him and apologises, pausing because she has detected a hair in her mouth.

So there you have it. A would be wide boy, a would be lady-killer and a would be femme fatale. If only.

What with the three of them analysing not only themselves but also each other, all told through the hip jargon of Manhattan in the Eighties, the play bounds along and the evening evaporates all too soon.

It's ages since I spent an evening in the theatre with the face ache resulting from having a grin pinned onto my jaws.

It is interesting to note that due to the fact that Dennis's poster of President Reagan is used as a dartboard, politically they are young progressives. Particularly interesting is that ideally progressive as our youth may be, in the final analysis we must all develop, stop kicking, and face up to what conformity really means.

The actors are all excellent, and that also is a revelation. These are primarily movie actors, and one of them (Jake Gyllenhaal) is making his stage debut.

They collectively get a stranglehold on the audience and never let go throughout the whole evening. You, like I was, will be beside yourself with delight.

There must be something about transatlantic actors that breathes magic into dialogue. All the four letter words in the world are used and don't sound remotely offensive. In fact they provide quite a few of the bigger guffaws that tear the house apart.

For admirers of the incendiary Anna Paquin I would suggest you take along a handkerchief. This is to stick in your mouth to stop you from screaming like a deranged fan. She is distressingly pretty and perfect. Her long, garbled and deranged speech in Act Two, when she mistakenly assumes the entire world knows she has been willingly screwed, brought a well deserved round of applause.

For the ladies in the audience, okay then, broads, you have the brilliantly mixed up Dennis of Hayden Christensen, soon to be seen in Star Wars Episode II as Anakin Skywalker.

He cannot possibly be this good on film. His absolute neuroses, yes there's more than one, are each given full rein. You bleed for him as he screams against the world in general, and Warren in particular, regarding the terrible situation in which he sees himself. His frustration at having his life interrupted and partly destroyed by Warren needs an audience to appreciate his performance fully. He rises to this audience and is excellent.

The broads can also take in Jake Gyllenhaal as the clumsy, very dumb-seeming charmer Warren. His comic timing (which can only improve as this is his stage debut) is already awesome.

I still don't believe I have seen the best play in London and that it is being played by a group of people of whom I have never heard. I can only say WOW!

This Is Our Youth (click here for official website) by Kenneth Lonergan. Directed by Laurence Boswell, Designed by Jeremy Herbert, Costumes by Iona Kenrick, Lighting by Adam Silverman, Sound designed by Fergus O'Hare, Presented by Phil Cameron (for Background), Clare Lawrence and Anna Waterhouse (for Out Of The Blue) for and on behalf of Back to Blue Ltd in association with Amanda Mackey Johnson for ARC Productions NY.
WITH: Hayden Christensen (Dennis), Jake Gyllenhaal (Warren), Anna Paquin (Jessica). Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2.

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