at Warwick Arts Centre, Friday 11th November 2011
Written for www.StageWon.co.uk
A full-length play which manages to take one theme and explore it in an exciting and probing way is a rare thing, even at institutions as esteemed as the National Theatre. Yet within the space of eighty minutes, LittleBulb Theatre in Operation Greenfield manage to cover friendship, adolescence, faith, sexuality and ambition without ever leaving a topic falling by the wayside. This small-scale, four-person production involves some of the most precise physical theatre I’ve seen and has one of the biggest hearts on the touring circuit at the moment.
Four teenagers from the fictional town of Stokely decide this is the year for them to win the annual talent competition. They form a band made up of a multitude of different instruments and find inspiration in the Annunciation of the New Testament. As their music progresses, the questions every teenager has to ask (How do relationships work? What will I do after school?) crop up, and develop these already wonderfully realised characters to new levels.
Theatrically and visually, this is a stunning piece of work. The actors move around like clockwork, moving props to pre-recorded sound with startling precision yet never losing the charm of the characters. Scene changes are beautifully realised and ingenious, and we barely notice as the actors pick up and play instruments. Even moments of dialogue are timed perfectly, so that the ebb and flow of the background noise moves with the emotions of the scene. There is a clear sense of play here, tying in with the creation of music.
Under the direction of Alexander Scott, the four actors – Clare Beresford, Shamira Turner, Dominic Conway and Eugenie Pastor – portray hilariously the awkwardness of adolescents, and the desire to be ‘cool’. None of them can look the others in the eye, and each has their own clear agenda. They are all multi-talented too, playing a range of instruments and controlling the on-stage sound desk whilst moving around set and lights.
Even though the company clearly wanted to tackle the question of faith, however, the theme of Christianity does feel somewhat extraneous. It has clear links to the story – the band are formed through a Christian club and their songs concern the Bible – but I can’t help thinking that the piece would be just as effective without this through-line. These teenagers seem so bogged down in their faith that they have little time for anything else, and their inability to question this doctrine is both scary and unrealistic in equal measure. The issue is not with the theme, but with its lack of development; while the characters’ sense of self and others changes throughout the course of the play, their attitude to religion remains constant, which isn’t dramatically interesting.
If it wasn’t for this small qualm, Operation Greenfield would be nigh-on perfect. It is charming, optimistic and technically brilliant. LittleBulb remind us to regain a sense of play and tell us not to be afraid to try new things. In times of economic and moral despair, we should all try to recapture that fearlessness and ingenuity we had as teenagers if things are to even remotely improve.