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46

Little Foot” would acquire considerably larger audiences if the company behind it kept quiet about the fact that they are a school. En route to Paradise in Augustine’s, I am almost stopped in my tracks by the words “Amersham School,” before I decide from this play’s artwork that it definitely constitutes horror (which I find myself obliged to review whatever the circumstances). At the show, half of the audience are parents and when we applaud there is a lady who is quite evidently a teacher on her feet and whooping. Yet “Little Foot” is not the average high school fare. We are a long way from AHSFT and in its acting and appearance, this play often resembles university-standard theatre. Fans of quirky Nottingham New Theatre productions might even accept it as a passable substitute.

“Little Foot” has been written specifically for young actors by the South African dramatist Craig Higginson. Five teenagers travel to some lonely caves in the foothills of Johannesburg for a night of partying. They have fun, they start to argue, events rapidly escalate and then the gaiety shoots away irretrievably like a spilled drink. The acting is generally accomplished but special mention must go to Campbell Hartley, whose turn as a drunken man is alarmingly realistic and well-observed for a high school kid. He must have also studied a bit at the University of Life. It is significant that the cast only really look their ages during the applause.

The action on stage often risks growing melodramatic, but the addition of a Greek chorus adds dynamism and novelty to the performance. They are more like Banquo’s ghost than a real Greek chorus. We can see them but the five teenagers cannot. The chorus look like mutant lice or grotty faded teabags which have acquired the power of dance. They are at large amongst the audience and they will not keep their hands to themselves. At one point, an actor on stage utters the word “claw” and something grabs my ankle.

I see that “Little Foot” was previously performed at the Northampton Derngate, where it may have been swallowed up in the space, but we benefited from experiencing it up close. Now let us congratulate the actors and wave them on their way. I wish to criticise the writing.

“Little Foot” only works depending on how you view it. If the story is regarded as a sort of cartoon, then it is a lot of fun. But if you interpret it more realistically, then my patience begins to wear thin. Some fractious bickering between a gang of teenagers and the tribal justice meted out to our prehistoric ancestors do not say anything useful about the modern human condition. There is no single thread running from the discovery of fire to the atomic bomb. We are no longer marauding cavemen and modern teenagers are more likely to create something wonderful, such as a play, than they are primal mayhem.

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