Our Generation – National Theatre Review

Photo courtesy of Johan Persson and National Theatre

Our Generation is the National Theatre’s latest production to be held at the Dorfman Theatre. The play’s inception has been five years in the making, documenting 656 hours’ worth of interviews with young people across the UK. In total 12 children from six schools were interviewed for five years, culminating in the 212 scenes we see in Our Generation. So what is this modern-day epic about?

It’s about being a teenager. More importantly it’s about all the things that come with being a teenager for our generation (excuse the pun), offering a window into the characters’ lives with all the highs and the lows that accompany it. Whether that’s social media (with the influencers and anxiety that comes with it), body image (particularly during adolescence), GCSE’s (and the pressure of family expectations), or Trump and Brexit, all is explored as we embark on a journey spanning five years with these characters. 

As you can see from some of the themes, Our Generation builds to a rollercoaster of emotions and doesn’t shy away from tackling some of the key issues within society today. However, the production is not all doom and gloom. It is incredibly funny at many points, it’s sad at others, but most importantly it is relatable. I found many aspects of these characters’ lives incredibly powerful and that really helped me empathise with their stories.

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Photo coutesy of Johan Persson and National Theatre

One of the play’s downsides is its length. As you can probably guess with 212 scenes, the play totals 3 hours and 40 minutes long including two intervals! This gargantuan running time might be off-putting to prospective viewers, and I must confess, you can certainly feel the play’s length in some places. This, combined with the fact the play is quite ‘meaty’ in its content with a lot to digest, can lead to the play feeling a bit like a marathon. 

Having said that, I don’t know how else the play could have tackled this topic and subject matter without compromising on the power and relevance of the themes it is portraying. The pace of the scenes is fast, and they flow into each other, which helps with the length as there are a lot of scenes. On balance, I felt it was important to allow the characters space for their experience from start to finish, so to cut content from key aspects of their lives would be a detriment to the overall journey the audience and the student characters embark upon. 

The set design uses a dynamic digital screen as a backdrop that displays the characters’ names and their ages as they are first introduced to the audience. This isn’t used too much so it doesn’t detract from the performances, but is used really effectively in the third act of the play when the characters grapple with COVID and the digital learning that accompanies it. One segment takes place through a phone screen on the digital background. This creates an innovative experience and was very relevant to the sudden shift the students had to undertake as they adapted to this new virtual world. The set’s digital screen is an effective tool and used sparingly to the credit of the creative team. 

Photo courtesy of Johan Persson and National Theatre

The cast are absolutely fantastic. Every single one of them did an amazing job and it would be unfair to single out any individuals as they all did an incredible job. The cast playing the students really embodied their characters through mastering the mannerisms that students and teenagers have. In addition to the students, there were three actors playing the adults who were also amazing, having to effectively jump in and out of multiple parental characters, all with various accents. This is a difficult job but they conveyed each character they inhabited with a real distinctiveness which added to the immersion. The chemistry between all the cast was magnetic and the overall effect was a totally believable environment; you could see they really loved bringing to life their characters and their energy effectively came across to us as an audience. 

Photo courtesy of Johan Persson and National Theatre

The cast truly engaged with the audience too. They pointed to, interacted with, and gesticulated towards the audience when speaking which made us feel included – as if they were confiding with us. It was as if there wasn’t a barrier between the audience and the characters on the stage and I felt this was a striking element of the play so credit must go to movement director Carrie-Anne Ingrouille and director Daniel Evans. 

Our Generation is a great production that I would encourage you to go out and see. It is crazy to think that this is not a piece of fiction, rather these are the actual lives of people growing up and grappling with what it means to be a teenager in our society today. It is deeply thoughtful and, as this is our generation being depicted on stage, highly relatable. Yes, the play is long and at some points this is certainly felt. However, if you persevere and stick with it, the play is thoroughly rewarding and a must-see experience. 

Our Generation is directed by Daniel Evans and written by Alecky Blythe. The play is on at the National Theatre’s Dorfman theatre and is playing until the 9th of April.

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