Named after the anti-climactic Oasis album that failed to live up to expectations, Be Here Now is an exploration of love and the regret around our experiences with it. Theatre company TOOT – made up of performers Stuart Barter, Clare Dunn and Terry O’Donovan – use their own teen years during the 90s to create a piece that is informal in setting, meaning we find ourselves very much engrossed in the teenaged bedroom world we find ourselves in. Mixing both the serious and the light-hearted, Be Here Now is great fun, whether or not you were three, thirteen or thirty during the 90s.
You would expect the sound design of a play about music to be good – and it is. Right from the outset, when we request our favourite 90s songs while waiting for the show to start (I, for the record, requested Blur), what we hear is integral to our experience of the piece. Use of microphones and skipping sound tracks, as if the CDs are scratched, only helps to heighten how sound brings out the ambitions of the teenage versions of Barter, Dunn and O’Donovan, who hope to imitate the musicians they listen to and are bitterly disappointed when they fail. Though this may make the piece sound dismal, it is far from it. Be Here Now is a lively, witty work, with sudden changes in music and effective lighting design – all pulsing light bulbs, flashes and disco balls – used to create moments of comedy and pathos.
The use of constant audience interaction means it really is rather hard not to be won over by the charm of both the piece and its performers. It is easy to forget quite how powerful constant eye contact with performers can be, which it certainly is here. It’s possible, perhaps, to take issue with how the stories of the three performers remain mostly unresolved. But Be Here Now is not about the plots, but rather about our experiences, and Barter, Dunn and O’Donovan ensure there is a great deal for the audience to experience. We are shown mini-discs, given objects to hold, subjected to games of spin-the-bottle, and even become guests at a party. The 90s are not recreated, but we are certainly lent aspects of that world.
There are moments, however, that don’t quite fit. We are asked at one point to get out our phones, à la Privacy, and film a scene. This use of modern technology throws the piece off a bit. Be Here Now relies so much on being knowingly kitsch – we laugh when one character excitedly announces that he now has a mobile – that the whole use of our smartphones in this setting feels very out of kilter.
But regardless of moments of jarring or awkwardness, the bottom line is this: making direct eye contact with a performer while a recognisable 90s favourite began to play, I couldn’t help but smile. Be Here Now has a quality about it – a mixture of wry nostalgia and communal experience – that means it is, all in all, hugely enjoyable. And on the effectiveness of the piece: what did I do as soon as I got home? Put on the first Blur album I could find.
Be Here Now is playing Shoreditch Town Hall until 28 June. For more information and tickets, see the Shoreditch Town Hall website.