When met with the actors already onstage as you enter the space for the 50th anniversary of the National Youth Theatre’s first writing commission, the energy exuding from them is almost contagious, as they play basketball, football and conkers. The vibe is one of teenage freedom, setting the tone for what is to come. The ensemble breaks into incredibly energetic football chanting, and we are met by Zigger Zagger (Teddy Robson), the narrator of this tale about football hooliganism and fitting in with the crowd.
The slick movements and timing of the ensemble are a joy to watch, as they seamlessly dress and undress the stage with set and props, moving around the protagonist of this story, Harry Philton, played by Josh Barrow. Harry is isolated after leaving school at 15, as he has no real prospects, and his mother, Mrs Philton (Ciara Wright), prefers him to spend his time out of the house when she is with her dates. Wright is very entertaining as the buxom, promiscuous character, but also convincingly carries the weight of the situation during the more serious events in the piece. Barrow’s portrayal of Harry is one of naivety at the beginning of this play, however the stance and rhythm the actor has decided on does occasionally play against him, as he never really seems to stand still, his feet continuously wandering, probably to suggest youth in the character, and he seems to bend backwards every time his character is experiencing a heightened emotion. This repetitive decision making can also be said for Ebe Bamgboye who plays Les, Harry’s brother- in-law. Whilst he has some strong moments, his speech remains the same throughout, emphasising the beginning of his lines with no volume by the end of them. I can appreciate that this was to fall in with the overall naturalistic acting, nevertheless this does not serve him very well. A special mention must go to Adam Smart, the comedic Youth Careers Officer, as he gives a well thought- out performance, with a great amount of detail in his score of movement. That being said, there is only so much one can do with a piece of writing which feels not quite complete.
For example, it seems as if Peter Terson was unable to decide on a genre for his play, as quite a way in, minor characters are suddenly given solo singing numbers, for no apparent reason, stopping any sense of story in it’s tracks. The production running time is 2 and a half hours including the interval, which unfortunately results in too many ideas stuffed into one play, with various characters’ monologues ending up feeling like one long preaching rant.
Wilton’s Music Hall is a wonderful performance space, and the stage and sound designers, James Button and Becky Smith respectively, cannot be faulted. The back wall of the stage is a corrugated iron fence which has doors cut into it, creatively used to suggest different settings, such as Harry’s home as well as underneath the rafters at the football stadium. The costumes are detailed, carrying the style of the mid-seventies, and even the police uniforms are suited to the time.
As this piece of writing was commissioned 50 years ago, the language and messages are somewhat dated, falling awkwardly on the ear, and it seems that the only reason this was put on again was it’s anniversary.
Zigger Zagger played at Wilton’s Music Hall until September 9, produced by the National Youth Theatre.
Photo: Nobby Clarke