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As I watch a group of teenagers dance joyously and irreverently accompanied by quirky, bright, electronic music, I begin to feel uneasy. The title of the play, Hidden, immediately sets me on edge, and I start to wonder what lurks beneath this jubilant exterior. Nina Lemon’s play successfully treads this fine line between comedy and tragedy throughout, creating a piece that is all at once filled with hilarity and light, as well as profound grief and struggle.
Hidden has been created by Peer Productions, a youth arts charity that specialises in combining high quality theatre with peer education and it is available to buy to specifically stream within classrooms. The play certainly fulfils its aim to educate; its elucidation of mental health statistics, terms and helplines are skilfully woven into engaging and emotionally rich performances.
Three teenagers meet at a festival. Matt, Sophia and Tash are wildly different people who have lived different lives, but come together to tell a powerful story about their experience and struggles with mental health. They end up telling each other, total strangers, their deepest struggles and doubts. Whilst I initially think that this premise is contrived (would you tell a total stranger your entire life story?) I now think that it portrays a fascinating reality about festival culture. Strangers share in a collective experience that serves to bring people together and, in the case of Hidden, festivals act as a place in which you can cathartically face your inmost emotions.
Hidden focuses on three separate storylines, and clearly illuminates the fact that mental health affects people differently, and that everyone has a different way of coping and healing. Matt (Liam Stone), Sophia (Grace Pennell), and Tash’s (Molly Chartres) storylines all alternate seamlessly, weaving in and out of each other with ease. Matt’s storyline is shorter than the others’, and I initially think it is underdeveloped; but upon further reflection, I believe that it reinforces the point that experiences vary.
I am enchanted almost immediately by the fact that Hidden is bursting with life. Coupled with energetic tracks, moving sets, and rapid costume changes, is the sheer amount of movement that all the actors engage in. They run, they jump and all of it is captured by numerous camera angles and rapidly alternating shots.
The energy of the performance makes even more stark the scenes in which they are not moving, scenes which are usually the locus for imparting profound messages about mental health, self-worth and self-harm. The fluidity of the changes between movement to stillness brings me onto another aspect of fluidity which I think is achieved with considerable success: the actors take on several different characters, each playing different genders and ages, metamorphosing between teenagers, primary schoolers, and adults.
The kaleidoscope of characters played by each actor outlines how talented they are. I am taken on a rollercoaster of emotions by each one of them: Naomi Langford gives a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching performance as the mother of Chloe, a girl in Matt’s school who ends up taking her own life; and I am warmed by the excellently portrayed friendship that blossoms between Tash and Yas (Janet Oyewole). The combination of joy and tragedy within Hidden illuminates a terrifying truth about growing up. Teenage years can be filled with hilarity, friendship, and the excitement of growing up; and yet, at the exact same time, it can be utterly subsumed by the danger and reality of struggling with mental health. Hidden makes apparent this paradox and shows us, ultimately, how to heal.
Hidden can be watched online at Peer Productions. For more information and tickets, see Peer Productions’s website.