Very rarely does a play give me an increasingly uncomfortable feeling, a growing unrest. Most productions give some signals that allow me to predict their trajectory, preparing me for shock, discomfort or laughter. This Beautiful Future makes no promises in its opening moments, and stays deliciously unpredictable till the very end.
I am not talking about a twist: Rita Kalnejais’ bright pink playtext warns us on the very cover what we are about to witness. ‘Two teenagers lie naked together. A war shakes the room’. A love story set in 1944 between a young girl and an even younger soldier is hardly ever going to finish with a happy ending. It is not a twist in the plot that induces a heaviness in the stomach, but rather the gradual unfolding of tragedy, the subtle change of tone that both Kalnejais and director Jay Miller are masters of in this production. We start by seeing two young kids in love, cuddly, playful, carefree. Nestled in Cécile Trémolières’ circular, soft white bed they are removed from the outside world. But as the play moves along, history, which is playing out on the other side of the walls, is invading this bubble step by step. We hear a plane; we witness a bombing; we learn that Otto is German, and Elodie is French; later again we learn that Otto is an ambitious Nazi who believes in his cause, and that Elodie has epileptic episodes. Every piece of information is revealed to us layer by layer, allowing this piece to surprise us and engage us. This is how a play set at the end of WWII, a war we all know the outcome of, can feel fresh and unexpected.
The play portrays youth, naivety and love in simple and beautiful ways. Hannah Millward as Elodie is carefree and loud, her arms always moving, waving, snaking around her body, giving her a nervous and yet assured energy. She is humorous and fun, but also incredibly grounded – when she has her fit Otto has to look away. Her quiet struggle makes you feel like you’re moving bags of cement.
Similarly, Bradley Hall presents us with a detailed portrayal of Otto. Here is a young kid who wears a uniform, which makes him look somehow less serious looking than when he’s in his underwear in bed. He talks with a performed confidence, as if every sentence he utters is there to assure himself as well. He is ambitious and dangerously optimistic about “Mr Hitler”, a person he looks up to. He hopes to follow his footsteps. Both performances are so strong and feel so real that you forget just how little happens in this play: it doesn’t shy away from taking its time and enjoying its own silence.
And that’s not even to mention the karaoke. Yes, This Beautiful Future features karaoke for some reason. It is still, much later, unfathomable why there were two booths on either side of the set with microphones and headphones where Alwyne Taylor and Paul Haley spent most of their time singing and reading various texts throughout the play. There is something so incredibly random about it, something borderline trippy and undeniably unique that it just becomes part of the production’s logic organically. And so by the time comes for the audience to sing, prompted by the text on the wall, we sing along with Adele without question.
Above all, I felt cocooned: Josh Anio Grigg’s sonic environment is unwavering, keeping us fully immersed at all times, while Christopher Nairne’s subtle lighting helps to keep the dreamlike atmosphere in place. Just like Otto and Elodie, I forgot about the outside world, and as a result was even more mortified by its cruelness once it found its way in. This Beautiful Future is pure in the dirtiest sense; it’s naïve and random, creates its own rules and finds logic that we all get on board with.
This Beautiful Future is playing at The Yard Theatre until May 20.
Photo: Richard Lakos