“If only I could start to realise I’m not the only one who feels like they’ve been left behind”
Austerity bites. And it seems like it often bites hardest on the arts, government thinking considering them a luxury rather than a necessity as libraries and those relying on arts funding have been finding out to their cost. And in Thomas Attwood and Elliot Clay’s new musical The State of Things, it is a group of seven Sutton Coldfield teenagers, preparing for their music GCSE performance, who find that the A-Level music course onto which they all want to progress is being cut from the timetable in a cost-cutting measure.
Being teenagers means that they quickly get up in arms to protest the decision to their headteacher (known as Maggie – the school is an academy…) but being teenagers, they’re also horny af and wrestling with the weight of the world on their shoulders, sometimes all at the same time. Thus the political mixes with the personal (affectingly so in the case of Hana, who faces huge responsibilities at home due to her mother’s health issues), inconsequential daily drama with sincerely felt fear for the future.
Remarkably, the show was pulled together in just three months on the discovery of a free slot at the theatre and whilst you have to admire the creative outpouring, especially in terms of the song-writing, there are moments where the hurriedness shows in the writing. The dialogue never feels less natural than when it is trying to articulate political viewpoints, recognising that the strengths in their characters stem from conversation rather than soapboxing would definitely help to further develop the play.
That said there’s also an impressiveness to the vision here. The determination to tackle big issues head-on, the boldness to avoid easy resolutions, even just the balls to put on an original musical in a theatrical climate that tends to the risk-averse. Composer Clay has alighted on the canny idea to have the songs be originals that the band have written themselves, which allows them to be expressions of young people still in the process of finding their own musical identity, hence drawing on influences such as the Beatles, the Stones, and Emeli Sandé as much as their own burgeoning talents.
And the cast of seven actor-muso their way with real commitment here, a rawness to their playing and singing making it bracingly fresh. Hana Stewart’s Ruth can’t help put pull the focus in the ensemble, she’s the lead singer (of sorts) and exudes the kind of confidence that makes you most excited for what she does next. So too does James William-Pattison’s Will, his cocksure demeanour masking inner turmoil, and Nell Hardy’s viola-wielding Kat, and Toby Lee and Rosa Lukacs together-4eva couple Beefy and Jaz.
Dammit, they’re all good, and young, and enthusiastic, and talented (Ben Jacobs’ intelligent lighting deserves mention too) – The State of Things sure doesn’t look too bad from here.