[Get your headphones if you’re in public. Hit play.]
[Scroll down to here so Adele isn’t too distracting. Now read on.]
In a little French house in the middle of the last century a girl arrives with bread, cheese and wine to meet the boy she likes. This is our story. A beautiful past where teenagers imagine a beautiful future. But it’s 1944. She’s French. And he’s a German soldier.
- I wish I invested more in really good cheese.
I went to This Beautiful Future knowing it would be incredible. The first time the Yard Theatre had it, there was so much buzz it was hard to hear the rest of Twitter. So I came laden with expectations, though very few ideas about what I’d be seeing. Because of course people profuse that things are fab but don’t often have space to tell you why (pre 280 gate.)
- I will tell people why the things I see are good and bad more on Twitter.
To skip back a few moments into the theatrical past, I’ll set the scene for a story that arrested me heart and soul with the unsettling innocence of young love in wartime.
Cécile Trémolière’s set is wonderfully simple with a quirky indoor-outdoor modern-old aesthetic. You know, like all the Dalstonites who wear an old fashioned knit with a clean lined modern coat. An oval grassy dais – with real grass I think, because our boy and girl get muddy knees – with a circular bed in the middle filled with a white duvet and white pillows is where our story happens. And there’s a tap too for water pouring, drinking and washing purposes.
A sepia backdrop of the French countryside with thatched houses has in the centre of it a caption screen with pink and purple text. Words come up in karaoke style letter by letter (when there’s karaoke – I’ll get to that) or like an aside to the audience in square brackets. It speaks to us almost like a fifth character. I looked forward to each time it would share things.
- Pay more attention to who’s who in the theatre design world.
The stroke of utter perfection comes in the glass karaoke booths either side of the stage. “Hello, hello.” An older woman walks across the stage near the audience to signal we’re getting started. [Say hello to Paul!] “Hi Paul!” An extra friendly older man comes on and greets us. It’s not funny, exactly, but I smiled as broadly as I possibly could because they just seemed so lovely. What a NICE NICE NICE way to start a play. By saying hello to us.
And then they get into their booths and SING TO US a really lovely song, karaoke style, into microphones. At this point, my heart was totally bursting. And THEN it gets even better for a moment and we get to join in. I love it, at this point, way too much. Thank you Alwyne Taylor and Paul Hayley you guys are wonderful.
- Sing more. Out loud. Joyfully.
[Get Adele going again if she’s stopped crooning. Join in for a bit.]
[Someone like youuuuu]
Before we’ve even met the couple who’s story is told, we’re set up with this infectiously light hearted mood. But it’s also a nostalgic one. The older man and woman look back and say things they regret; bucket list things they’d do if they still had the time. And as the plays goes on these get more hopeful – from the silliest of things – “I’ll get better at phone sex” – to the serious things – “I’ll try church for a month just to see.” We think at first they might be Otto and Elodie later in life – but no – their characters are markedly different, modern and present. Instead they capture this future-looking vision for the world and welcome us into the play – perhaps as visions of who we can be.
[Pause. What things make your future beautiful?]
Back to Elodie and Otto. Rita Kalnejais has written these two just perfectly with contemporary intonations in their voices. Elodie has all the chat of an excited teenager ready to embrace the new, impulsive things she can do in life. Abigail Lawrie gives her this soft demeanour full of smiles and energy – a strong fragility we feel sure could never break. She grins and laughs through the hard things, teases Otto non-stop and is always game for a play fight. Otto seems almost like he wants to take back every word he’s ever said. Tom Morley plays him, though, with fearless optimism. He’s been told the next big thing is happening – he thinks they’re invading England. His naivety makes us like him.
- Start a pillow fight sometime just because.
Otto starts the play nearly naked wearing white boxers, pure, a young boy taken in by a pretty country girl. He ends it belted into a too-big uniform convicted that he’s cleansing countries to help “Mr Hitler” make the world a better place. There isn’t too sides to him, though. All of that is Otto. And it’s deeply uncomfortable to come to terms with his sweetness alongside the darkness. He’s a Nazi – the play never stresses so but it’s so light touch it doesn’t need to – that’s it. He has an almost religious affection for Hitler.
- Live each day in the light and fight the darkness.
The cuteness of Otto and Elodie working out their feelings for each other and experimenting with physical affection is just too much – it’s so relatable – so totally adorable. They have water fights, he brings her wild flowers and they dream of having kids who speak both French and German. He tells her she can tell him anything she wants to because he will get it.
But he’s got the totally wrong utopia. And he doesn’t see it. Does his youth absolve him? How do we feel that our instinct is to care for him and to really like him? Otto says, “It’s like he’s saying what you haven’t even let yourself admit.” There’s a bit of Hitler speaking through him. That scared me. But This Beautiful Future doesn’t let your reaction be clear cut. He’s still Otto. And that’s where the play’s genius lies.
[How far does tolerance go?]
This Beautiful Future is easily the most cleverly executed, theatrically inventive production I’ve seen this year and Jay Miller pulls it off with such ease of style. The ending is just overwhelmingly precious but that’s one spoiler I won’t reveal. It’s at the Yard Theatre until the 25 November. Photos by Mark Douet.
- Go to the theatres that are a bit of trek. Totally worth it.
If you liked This Beautiful Future have a read of Ramona Tells Jim. It has the same kind of young love story with darkness and confession at its heart. Like Kalnejais, Sophie Wu gets the hilarity of teenage talk spot on.