The National Theatre’s Connections Festival is an initiative to get new and innovative writing, focused on young people, out across the country. The yearly project provides an opportunity for youth theatres and schools to perform new pieces, encouraged by representatives from the National Theatre, and a selection have the honour of performing at the National itself.
At a glance, Katherine Chandler’s Hood, performed by Found In The Forest Youth Theatre, seems like it could have great promise in this festival. The play concerns ‘five struggling kids’, deserted by their mam, and left with a severely depressed father. Whilst that may seem excessively bleak, one could not dispute it offers an opportunity for great character depth. Or sharp social commentary. Or, perhaps, a close examination of the modern notions of siblings and family? However, the play aims for lighter tones and a vaguely postmodern style, and ends up all the more poorly superficial and irritating for it.
Of the family’s children, it is young Robyn Hood – named in a way that suggests the writer thought this allusion to Robin Hood was enough to serve as a foundation for a script – played by Erin Tanswell, that tries to keep the clan afloat. They are worried about being taken from their home after an impending visit from Father Tuck – no, not a friar – and, as a result, have to clean the house and find food to give the illusion that they are still living in a stable environment. This is the cue for various moral dilemmas over the theft of food from multinational companies and money for bread and milk going ‘missing’. All these loose threads of plotline could have been woven into something structured and meaningful; however, they were all left hanging, and, as an audience, we weren’t sure what to do with them. Topping all this was a constant use of talking to the audience in the manner of we’re-going-to-tell-you-a-story-now. This technique is occasionally successful, but the barrage here fell towards irritating, and, when a cast member implied we may want to leave, awkward.
I feel I must stress, that for all the show’s misgivings, the cast should not be held responsible. This seemed a truly young cast, but they owned the stage throughout, with stage presence, occasional strokes of superb comic timing, and sheer energy. Particular credit should go to lead Tanswell, who gave us a much-needed glimpse into emotional depth, when Hood finally railed against her father’s ineptitude. This could have and should have been tapped more, but the tone of the piece seemed to be ‘everything may be awful but we can still be kooky’, and whilst I’m not sure if that was a writing or directing issue, it didn’t do the cast justice.
The set design also deserves note, a composite of various crates and frames, which the cast skilfully manipulated into various scenes. Likewise, the father, a giant puppet, whilst looking rather terrifying, was controlled masterfully.
This was a piece that could have been moving, funny, and, dare I say, important, but unfortunately, it moved towards a light, happy-go-lucky atmosphere. This did neither the cast nor the story justice, and, whilst the occasional flourish lifted proceedings, it left me uninspired.
Hood played at the National Theatre as part of Connections, running until 6 July. For tickets and more information, see the National Theatre website.