Image: The Lion & Unicorn Theatre
MANDA: Zöe Grain
THEM: Emily Costello & Lucy Annable
The 1990s. The East Midlands.
A girl left standing on the edge of the dance floor.
And a dead hedgehog.
This story of 17-year-old Manda, at the end of the 90s.
Dad's pissed in the living room, watching the darts.
Mum's on the rosé, and Manda's losing her mind.
She's on the cusp of womanhood, and the world's about to enter a brand spanking new Millennium.
A story of the anxiety, sex, love, family and identity, as well as coming to terms with life, her place in this brave new world and ultimately, how we all find a way to cope.
Written for one female voice, and based on real experiences, HEDGEHOG attempts to unpack the odyssey of the day to day, how huge and insurmountable the world can seem to a person coming to terms with adulthood, and how the creeping spectre of anxiety takes root in young people.
Boldly created with physical theatre, from the creators of multiple LOOP, HEDGEHOG is an affectionate, witty and current look at every young person's last deep breath, one look back, and plunge headfirst into the rest of their lives.
We're back in the territory of angst, euphoria, depression and drink-induced nausea as the heady cocktail of swirling hormones wreak havoc on the unsuspecting mind and body of a teenager.
The adult-in-waiting described in this play from Boxless Theatre, and written by Alexander Knott, is 17 year old Manda who resides with her unassuming and unremarkable parents in Barwell, Leicester.
Barwell is (apparently) a largish village of around 9,000 folk, at least according to the 2011 census.
It sounds like one of those places where teens won't find very much in the way of things to stimulate their developing intellects, apart from occasional forays into local pubs.
And that seems to be the way it works for Manda who does indeed succumb to the call of alcohol as part of what seems to be a fairly predictable kind of life.
The time is 1999 when we first encounter Manda, but we take a detour of a couple of years bak to '97 for the middle section of this 70 minute piece.
Now much of what we hear from Manda and what we see of her encounters with peers, parents and other adults is pretty routine stuff - the kind of interactions we've seen often enough before in shows about adolescence, the teenage years and growing-up in general.
The play is based on actual experiences and it certainly bears the hallmarks of reality - sometimes in all its glorious banality.
For Manda's life isn't very different to that experienced by many teens as they tackle the sometimes torrid and tortuous entry into the 'grown-up' world.
In one sense, that is a blessing, but it also teeters on the brink of being a curse.
Sure, it's perfectly acceptable to offer a glimpse into the life of an 'ordinary' teen (if there is such an individual) - but that leaves little potential to reveal something different, or even extraordinary, or more strikingly dramatic about adolescence.
To set it apart from the rest of the pack, this play would have benefitted enormously if Manda had something really unique about her personality, but as described here, Manda is merely typical, rather than someone extraordinary.
Zöe Grain does, however, inject believability into her character, and she capably and assuredly holds our attention throughout.
There are times when her Manda is aptly (and possibly justifiably) abrasive - a response used as a defence mechanism, particularly at times when she feels ill-at-ease and lacking confidence.
But there's also something definitely endearing about Ms Grain's portrayal, and we certainly warm to her character as the play progresses, even if Manda lacks the intriguing depth and layering of her persona that might have provided some more forceful and original drama.
Ms Grain is confidently and well-supported by Lucy Annable and Emily Costello who play 'Them' - a variety of other characters such as Manda's mum, a darts match commentator, Manda's much-admired best pal, and what at times almost seem like 'alter egos'.
I struggled, though, to find a compelling reason why the play is set back in the somewhat distant past of the late 1990s, which lends a dated feel to the drama.
We do initially find Manda about to face a new millennium, but that event didn't seem to offer scope for revelations about the nature of adolescence, nor about Manda's individual situation.
In spite of my reservations, though, Boxless Theatre's production demonstrates palpable underling skill and professionally, exposing tantalising promise for the future.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Lion & Unicorn Theatre
Our show listing for Hedgehog
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