The programme describes Victim Sidekick Boyfriend Me as “a chilling psychological drama”. I wouldn’t go that far, but am impressed by the complex way in which writer Hilary Bell approaches the psychology of teenage relationships, so that this isn’t a play dumbed down for teenagers but written to challenge them.
Victim Sidekick Boyfriend Me doesn’t concentrate on the facts, but on the blame. Initially this makes the play a little hard to follow: a Girl (Amy Weaver) has committed some sort of crime and her Sidekick (played by the ensemble of Marine Academy) has had to serve a prison sentence as a result, but the Victim’s (Jenna Blenkinsop) Boyfriend (James Martin) lets the Girl off. Suspicious circumstances. And whilst I understand that Bell never mentions the gravity of the crime committed – only that the Victim is dead for some reason – because this play is about coming to terms with the responsibility of your actions, I still feel I’m missing something to make me want to commit fully to the play.
Sidekick is played by 16 members of the Marine Academy – a year 12 performing arts group from Plymouth. They echo a Greek chorus as their interactions provide commentary on the action or offer us information. Interestingly, they are almost always sat/stood on the white blocks which encircle the boundaries of the stage in Jenna Blenkinsop and Symone White’s set, and which trap the Girl. These blocks are the stepping stones on which the Girl jumps as she dodges blame and places it on to the Sidekick. But as the play progresses, and the Girl is invited to fill the Victim’s place, her movements become increasingly isolated. These production elements, such as the set and lighting, have been designed by members of the company, and exemplify the thought and understanding which they have injected into this show.
What is best about this production however, is the enthusiasm of the company. There is a brilliant sense of freedom about the scenes the chorus have as a youth group and which contrast with the imprisoning guilt which progressively envelops the Girl. Altogether, this company have no inhibitions and relish their time on the stage; the scenes which include song and dance also showcase the wide array of talent that is this group’s strong point. They are especially physically strong, which feeds back into their ability to function like a chorus. They’re obviously a tight unit, able to synchronise their delivery and tone.
By way of constructive commentary, however, the group is let down by an incomprehensible lack of confidence when delivering lines alone. Weaver has shadowy tonality and stage presence as the Girl, and Blenkinsop is obviously extremely flexible with all her roles, never lacking in conviction and energy. But otherwise, the cast need to project their individual lines more, and not be afraid to continue if someone speaks over them by mistake, rather than trail off. This is a talented, likeable group, and it’s easy to learn to enjoy your moment in the spotlight.
Victim Sidekick Boyfriend Me is an eye-opening play for teenagers – but perhaps only teenagers. Bell takes the audience on a journey which morphs the concept of forgiveness, but essentially this is just a lesson to learn for teenagers which bridges the gap into adulthood. All the same, Marine Academy has been well-rehearsed by Director Matt Taylor, and the cast should be proud of what they’ve achieved in this production.
Victim Sidekick Boyfriend Me played at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Theatre on 23 June as a part of the NT Connections Festival 2012.