Teenagers. The word alone (now that I am in my early twenties), leaves me in disdain as I struggle to compete with them at the shopping centres they congregate in. However, remembering that I am not far removed from this social group, director Eva Sampson and writer Leo Butler prepare the audience to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly of teenagehood in a nostalgia filled Decades.
Self explanatory in its title, Decades takes the audience through a journey of cultural and historic events through the eyes of a candid, and occasionally mature teenage perspective. The brashness of these adolescents is captured at the beginning of the play. A chorus line of actors emerge from the trap doors and wings of the stage, boldly singing to the tune of a guitar. Entrances made, the cast separate into the corners of the built up stage, signalling the audience’s trip down memory lane.
Bulter’s decision to present the different decades sporadically, is executed through the use of intertwined dialogue and costume. The regurgitation of fashion proves advantageous for the production as costume establishes the decade: feathers for the 1920s, shift dresses and mod prints for the 1960s, and ‘Frankie Says Relax’ t-shirts for the 1980s. Decades furthermore presents the decades through pairing scene changes with relevant music and popular culture references. Topical and evoking in their content, the references leave different members of the diverse audience erupting into laughter at moments they can identify with. The use of these heavy ladened conventions encourage the audience to make emotional connections. This lends itself to the success of Decades, because characters are identified by the decade they represent and not by names.
Each decade tells a story that initially appears mid-sentence, before disappearing and being reduced to subtle movements. When the scene reappears, the development of the story forms the teenagers values and opinions to the world that they live in, and enriches their status within that decade. The abrupt overlap in the decades provides momentum and encourages audience anticipation, as the scenes halt on cliffhangers and descend into sexualisation and provocation.
Amidst the verbal and physical abuse (and humorous accidental drug use), the stillness and calm of one particular scene, subsequently encourages it to become the standout moment of the play. A sombre soundtrack fills the emptiness of the stage as the medals of honour a morally conflicted war hero receives is suddenly replaced by a high vis vest and broom. This moment symbolises the play as Decades reflects the hard hitting and fast paced nature of life.
The teenage perspective stimulates distant memories for the audience that have long come and gone, but are not forgotten. The play covers a wide spectrum of events from World War I and II, Bill Clinton’s infamous cheating scandal, to even more recent events including Muhammed Ali’s passing. The multiple talents of the cast, comprised of recent Brit School graduates who act, sing and dance, defy the stigma associated with the social group they represent.
Decades represents society through the experiences of a group that are navigating through life on the cusp of adulthood. Through the traumas of puberty, secondary school, and nagging parents, Decades reminds me that given the amount of chaos in the world, being a teenager was not as bad as I remember.
Decades is playing at the Ovalhouse until Saturday 25th June. For more information about the play, see www.ovalhouse.com