The Oval House Theatre has long held a reputation for being a centre for pioneering fringe theatre groups, and is now home to the innovative company Box Clever, which has been shaping the arts scene since its Artistic Director and writer in residence, Michael Wicherek, founded it in 1992. Box Clever prides itself on being a writer-led endeavour with a clear mission: to devise engaging and contemporary theatre for young people all over the country. As Wicherek argues, it is young people who “make a valid contribution to the art and to the artists, and without their contribution, their [the artists’] work is less than whole.”
Box Clever’s work is visceral. enabling young people to partake in all aspects of the creative process by producing relatable, mature, bespoke theatre and placing an emphasis on community and social issues affecting young people living in urban areas. “Box Clever allows young people, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, to encounter theatre of the highest possible quality that speaks to them directly about the issues that are of real, immediate concern to their lives”, Wicherek says. Box Clever’s work is two-fold; it promotes youth participation, and devises theatre by young people for young people.
Its success has not gone unrecognised. Box Clever’s latest production, Time for The Good Looking Boy, which was written by Wickerek, has received a Writers’ Guild Award nomination for Best Play for Young People. The piece is a one-man show that deals with “the perceptions by adults of urban youth in the city, as contrasted with the reality of young people coping with an adult world.”
The young man in question is vividly brought to life by the talented Lloyd Thomas, winner of the BBC’s Norman Beaton Fellowship. Originally from Birmingham, Thomas trained at the prestigious East 15 Drama School in London. His performance has been described as “a tour de force”, in allusion to his unremitting energy throughout his solitary exposure on stage, where he unites with the audience in an intimate exploration of youth. Thomas admits that this intimacy proved to be somewhat challenging and attributes the co-dependency between the audience and himself as a vital source of energy throughout the performance. “Normally in a play there would be a fourth wall,” he says, “and you hope that the audience laugh at the right moment, but with this you break that wall, you are talking to them directly”.
As Thomas analyses his character, he cannot help but draw comparisons with the youth of today, which is testament to the play’s authenticity. “He is perceptive but quite confused; he’s sort of lost in his world. He is a very intelligent person, he’s sort of been the head of the family. In some ways, he is older than his years.” Refreshingly, the piece successfully relays the challenges faced by young people, striking a chord with teenagers facing the same challenges, while also reaching out to those whose youth has long gone. Time for the Good Looking Boy speaks broadly about the challenges faced by teens in relationships with family, friends and, most importantly, their experience of the world.
Skeptics may dwell on the misconception that young people either lack the interest, or are disadvantaged by their low attention span, and as such are unable to devise enthralling theatre. Box Clever’s approach challenges this misconception of what should appeal to young people. By drawing on a collaboration between youth and experience, Box Clever has been able to produce critically acclaimed theatre, as well as gaining respect amongst its contemporaries.
As the interview draws to an end, I soon realise that there is hope for all young theatre enthusiasts. As long as Box Clever’s collaboration with young people continues, the latter will be able to both devise and watch theatre which seeks to stimulate in a respectful and mature manner as opposed to subjecting them to preconceived stereotypes which rarely conform to reality. Underpinning the whole ethos of Box Clever is the frequently overlooked idea that a programme specifically devised by young people for young people can have a broad range of benefits for the arts as a whole, beyond the financial implications which come hand in hand with ensuring that theatres are filled for a whole run.
Box Clever’s Time for the Good Looking Boy tours to The Curve in Leicester from 30 March to 2 April, and tickets are available here. Further details about Box Clever’s work can be found on its website.