Touring – reviewed at Battersea Arts Centre, London
As the world feels more and more like a dystopian nightmare that could explode at any moment from greed and relentless late capitalism, it’s unsurprising that young people are worried about their future. Sounds Like Chaos is a soothing balm for them, though. The associate company at the Albany supports referred and self-referred 12-21 year olds with training, employment opportunities and opportunities to make theatre, treating them with respect and valuing their ideas. Their latest ensemble work is set in the near future, using music, projections and ritual to critique online culture.
It’s a familiar trope, and one employed heavy-handedly in this instance. I’m reminded of The Matrix, Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Light, and The Lego Movie, with a bit of The Hunger Games thrown in. Fusing a Christian service structure with the reliance on technology, we are taken to New Church, where everyone plugs in, donates data and praises the Godhead, a young man on a hoverboard.
Individuality is checklist of statistical criteria and non-conformity is not an option. Of course, there’s a rebel faction – in this case underdeveloped – and of course there are curious young people with big ideas that are quashed. The design is all neon and glittery and straight lines; it’s pretty to look at and fun to experience, but not particularly innovative. There are some laugh-out-loud moments of clever dialogue and the concept is fully integrated into the story, but not explored deeply enough to make it unique.
But the performers are excellent. There are 15 young people who act, sing and dance their way through the simple narrative with more panache than I’ve seen in a lot of young fringe shows. A group of four lead on most of the singing, with the rest making up a congregation of enthusiastic technology users who unquestionably parrot responses updated from the religious to the technological. The talent on show is well above that of their peer group.
Even though the script is straightforward and structurally simple – and recognisable to GCSE Drama teachers who facilitate assessed devising work – it feels discordant performed by people too young to remember much of our more analogue days. The 21-year-olds of the group would have been born in 1998, making them nine when the first iPhone was released. In their younger years, they still would have witnessed mobile phones and computers everywhere, and likely would have had a smart phone as their first handset. As such, the group’s condemnation of tech and a longing for the good old days rings false.
There’s plenty to like about this show, particularly the young performers. But it feels simultaneously too simple of story, and one that was created by adults and foisted on young people rather than the young people making something messier but fully owned by them.