Amir El-Masry, Charlotte Lewis, Cynicism, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Georgia Coles-Riley, Haverfordwest, Joshua Ward, Mark McKeever, Surgeon's Hall, Tamsin Newlands, Teenager, Theatre Review, Youth
Tychy occasionally tutors Highers students, they are invariably from rich families, and it is often unnerving to be exposed to their sheer intelligence. These kids dazzle you with their brightness, they pluck Highers out of the ether as easily as one might gather blackberries, they are quite familiar with drugs that I have only ever read about in the Guardian, and they will go on to effortlessly acquire internships in the city or to lead missions to the third world. Alas, when I was their age, I was scarcely aware that I was born.
Like many plays at this year’s Fringe – including “My Best Friend Drowned,” “Pulse,” “Bones,” “Time for the Good Looking Boy,” and even “A Clockwork Orange” – Georgia Coles-Riley’s “Haverfordwest” is a fantasy which yearns to expose some gritty truth about young people. The play is currently being performed by a company from Royal Holloway College at the Surgeon’s Hall, and it follows a gang of Welsh A-level students as they bid adieu to school. We are offered an unseasoned slice of life, with no character development nor conclusion. The play meanders into being and then ends abruptly.
Whilst people have always come of age, “Haverfordwest” seems to be overwhelmingly contemporary. The characters of Rhys (Mark McKeever) and Esther (Charlotte Lewis) are something of a distraction, anchoring the friends in established reality, and when Rhys troubles his poor head about writing the correct sort of text message or drinking the right amount of beer, the play resorts to easy laughs about his unexciting domesticity. But the witch Jas (Tamsin Newlands) and her familiar Finn (Amir El-Masry) are at something of a frontier, ostensibly venturing out into modernity through a bewildering and unpredictable new consciousness.
Jas and Finn’s anguished narcissism fills the entirety of this completely empty play. They mix the vulnerability of young people with the cynicism of (most) adults. They are afraid of both failing their exams and leaving home for new lives, whilst deploring the futility of either course. They end up stranded perpetually in some hellish dinner party, uttering a stream of sparkling bon mots with a cold relish, talking endlessly and brilliantly despite having nothing really to talk about. Jas is as lucid and world-weary as an ancient widow, and she offers a powerful sense of intelligence unjustly imprisoned in an adolescent body. Where will somebody so jaded find the energy to become an adult? Finn complains that all of the adults whom they know are “embarrassing” in their desire to be children again, but perhaps this is their only possible destiny.
It helps that these teenagers are played by adults. Amir El-Masry’s boyishness is so brilliant that it could only be made by a man. The stunning Tamsin Newlands assists the general sense of imprisonment by pacing the stage with a stroppy impatience. Jas’ would-be one night stand Mark (Joshau Ward) imagines that she will perfect in five years time, but she will probably be completely burnt out, or else inhumanly adult and just like a machine. Jas and Finn have stuffed their entire lives into adolescence. One cannot imagine Rhys and Esther looking back on this time with pleasure, but perhaps they are practical and they have saved some life for adulthood, to live on like a pension.