Deadkidsongs: Ustinov Studio, Bath
Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath
Macabre, dark, disturbing and utterly gripping – this is Gary Sefton’s stage adaptation of Toby Litt’s 2001 novel whose tale is seen through the eyes of a pre- or young-teen gang.
The quite horrifying story is brought to life on a bold set of vivid red tree branches and ladders – depicting the gang’s den – on to which are projected to the sound of a clacking typewriter the rules and incidents recorded by gang archivist Peter.
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He is the bespectacled swot with a passion for dinosaurs. His companions include Andrew, the increasingly out of control kid with a violent dad (viewed as Best Father and virtual gang leader), Paul, whose dad is the Worst Father for being embarrassing, and orphaned Matthew who lives with his grandparents (the Dinosaurs).
Later in the play his sister Miranda attempts to join the gang with dramatic consequences.
What begins as manoeuvres against potential invasion of the village by the Russkies, turns rapidly deeper and darker when inadvertent tragedy pushes war games beyond the threshold of the imaginary and into real life.
The crossover between fantasy and reality is skillfully handled – frequently hilariously – as the voices of parents are heard offstage scolding or discussing their offspring. Being grounded for misbehaviour is seen as capture by the enemy, but even generals have to go home for their tea.
The tale unfolds at dizzying pace, both physically as the gang leap in and out of trees and up and down ladders, and emotionally as themes of violence, loyalty, love, hate and revenge are explored.
It’s darkly funny, contrasting a nostalgic view of the 70s, when kids still made model aircraft, rode Choppers and spent their days in the woods, with the bleak and violent denouement that unfolds.
Performances from the cast of five are splendidly muscular – literally and metaphorically. At times you almost forget that it is adult actors playing kids, so good are they at capturing the bravado, rivalry and bullying within the gang.
Inevitably comparison can be made with Lord of the Flies, so it’s an excellent drama for any teenagers studying William Golding for next summer’s GCSEs to see.
Deadkidsongs runs until Saturday November 17.