It’s been two years now since riots swept the nation, destroying people’s homes, storefronts and livelihoods. Some shops still look like burnt-out shells. Many businesses are only just receiving compensation and others still are locked in battle with their insurers: a battle that only the lawyers can win. Two years is a long time to wait to start rebuilding your life.
Two years is also, it would seem, the approximate length of time it takes for something creative and meaningful to emerge from the rubble.
While the mainstream press has busied itself seeking out tales of woe about the ‘youth of today’, focusing on their criminal behaviour, their apathy, their sinking grades, their inflated grades… a number of young people have been quietly, diligently working on some rather remarkable creations inspired by the events of August 2011. Last week I was fortunate enough to sample one of them.
Advice for the Young at Heart is a play for young people, about young people, performed by young people – and it’s brilliant. Written by award-winning playwright Roy Williams OBE and produced by charitable professional theatre company, Theatre Centre, it is honestly one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long while.
The backdrop of the play is a scene of looting and ‘madness’ in the London riots of 2011, but it’s also set in the Notting Hill race riots of 1958, exploring the parallels and differences through the eyes of two generations of young people.
This play is about more than just riots. Its main character, Candice, played by the mesmerising Alix Ross, is a feisty, mouthy teenager of today whom I recognised immediately from the cast of characters I used in Feral Youth. She’s raw and real and torn between two paths in life and – much like Alesha – in denial about the possibility of ‘coming clean’ and doing something that breaks the unwritten code of the street.
Flipping between 2011 and 1958 through conversations with her dead grandfather, Candice begins to realise that history is in danger of repeating itself and for the first time in her life, she begins to understand what her grandparents went through for the family and for future generations. Masterfully exploring themes of peer pressure, gang violence, racism and social division, Advice for the Young at Heart is filled with poignancy – as well as some funny moments. I wish I’d had plays of this calibre touring my school when I was 15.
Advice for the Young at Heart is touring the UK now. For more information or to book tickets, follow the link. Theatre Centre is on Twitter at @TCLive with the #AdvicePlay hashtag. Go and see it! Now!
A little addendum to this: I was thrilled to hear that Alix Ross, the actress who plays Candice, had read Feral Youth. She had this to say about it:
“I could barely put it down. (It took me just 3 days to read it.) I was left in tears at 6am on Sunday morning (when I finished the book).
The first thing that sprang to mind when I started reading it was how great the dialect was – including the Jamaican. For a story about young people to be written in language they understand makes me feel like it is written not only for them but to educate those of us who don’t understand or appreciate how these young people feel and communicate.
What kept occurring for me when I read it is how it did not patronise but left a subtle message that anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself. Though the road is not easy you can do it.
Though my personal background is by no means close to Alesha’s, I still see and have spoken to “Aleshas” all over south who are dealing with the pull between better and what they know. The bottom line is that young people are angry, they’re not dumb but angry and need more support than they are getting: not just “pop-up youth centres”. Here is a perfect novel explaining why. One of my favourite parts is regarding why some young people want to have babies early – not for housing but to have a person love them back. There is so much more that I love about the novel but it would make this email an essay if I attempted to put everything down.
I can definitely see why you saw connections between Candice and Alesha. I hope that you are thinking of doing more with this wonderful story.
Alix. Aka Candice