UCAS forms are actually pretty dull. Writing a personal statement, aged 18, is a rather strained and dismal experience, which seems like the most important thing at the time, but quickly recedes into insignificance. As such, there’s not a great deal of drama to be squeezed from the process, and although this musical production from Off Track Theatre occasionally gestures towards some pretty important issues, its work is hampered by ‘kidz at skool’ cliché.
The scene is an after-school session, the day before the UCAS deadline, where a group has been asked to stay behind and complete their personal statements. This quickly turns into a depiction of the various students’ qualms with going to university, covering relationship attachments, debt, and lack of self-confidence.
There’s an urgent story here, surrounding large-scale student debt and access issues, but this is buried beneath the cliché of the writing and performances. The lyrics are bland and unfocused, and the writing lacks definition and urgency. This is in large part because writer Holly Bellamy has created tired caricatures, drowning in “whatevas”, gum, and baseball caps, rather that insightful and honest human beings.
It’s surprising to find out that this material is coming from a trained company – it comes across as inexperience and immature, not just a show about school, but a school show. The standard of singing and dancing is proficient, and the actors actually inhabit their caricatures quite well – but the work itself is hackneyed and patronising.
There’s something slightly offensive about conservatoire graduates acting out the genuine problems faced by a generation of schoolchildren in such a careless and schmaltzy way. The generic musical theatre effect smooths over any real sense of anxiety or urgency.
There is definitely space – and a need – for an exploration of what’s at stake in the transition between school and university: but UCAS isn’t up to the job.
UCAS played at Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 23) as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information see the Edinburgh Fringe website.