Anoesis[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)

As a platform for young people in the arts, it seems terrible that this is the first time A Younger Theatre has had the chance to experience the work of the Glasgow-based young people’s performance company Junction 25. The company, produced by Glas(s) Performance aims to represent young people in contemporary performance, and has been making work that has astounded audiences for the past eight years. It’s easy to see why with its new piece Anoesis at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, performing in the atmospheric Summerhall dissection room.

Seated at benches at two tables that stretch the length of the performance space, we are placed in exam room conditions. Here, along with the Junction 25 ensemble, we are transported back to our school days where exams test our learning and any form of expression is frowned upon: students must learn from text books. Of course, this isn’t how things really are, with each individual student succeeding or failing in due course and in differing manners. Education isn’t for everyone, despite what teachers try to promote, and the ‘work harder’ mantra is promoted. This is where Anoesis really shines: giving the space and creativity for this talented ensemble to blossom in their own ways.

Anoesis shows how the system of schooling can be, at times, fickle and exploitative. How education doesn’t always mean a successful career and, as the ensemble question their dreams and read from the exam paper with questions that even the brightest university student would fail to answer, things fall into perspective. It’s the individual that counts and here, as one audience member is praised for their intelligence and attitude to education, they are juxtaposed against poor Lily who just can’t succeed in her work.

We hear from each of the ensemble in turn, with their teacher reports imprinted as mini-monologues. They’re revealing, and hearing them aloud makes me wonder how much the role of the teacher is more to observe young people’s behavioural and societal journeys. When the focus switches beyond the exam room there’s pounding music and running backwards and forwards through the performance space, the force of their running billowing our exam sheets as we watch. There’s some emotive sequences that show the care and love that these young performers have for each other, they hug, hold hands and gaze out expectingly to the audience.

It would be fair to say that there are moments where the performance dips, and the energy is sapped from the otherwise upstanding piece, but these I feel can be forgiven. It’s not often you see a shared commitment from young people presenting ideas so universal and with such force. The piece left me tangled, caught between an excited ecstasy and a terrible sadness. There are moments that take your breath away, and at times I wanted to more from my education. The ending is particularly arresting, as a piano is revealed from behind drapes and there, dripping with talent and emotional depth, sits Jack Matheson whose inability to speak effectively in his classes leaves him with failing grades, but his musical voice through the piano rings out loud and clear. Unflinching and remarkably poignant, the ending broke me – and for that, I must but thank these talented young performers.

Anoesis is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.