Review: If We Were Older, National Theatre

Alice Schofield’s New Views-winning play If We Were Older is an absolute triumph at the National Theatre – a bright new talent is discovered

“An old woman is staring at me holding hands with a girl on the tube…”

Wowzers! I was hoping for an enjoyable afternoon catching up on some of the plays that were shortlisted for the National Theatre’s New Views teen playwriting competition, but I wasn’t expecting to be completely blown away by the one that was victorious. If We Were Older by Alice Schofield (a student of CAPA College, Wakefield) proves a more than worthy winner and absolutely, completely, worth junking your plans for late Friday afternoon so that you can catch its final performance. 

On finally getting round to watching Patrick Gale’s Man in an Orange Shirt, I was left a tad disappointed in the conventionally linear way it explored its dual timestreams. And it is tempting to think that Schofield might have felt the same way, as as her characters Maggie and Daisy have a little contretemps on the tube, the fallout in which she explores each of their personal histories is beautifully commingled, their stories intricately entwined as we discover they’re so much more alike than they could ever know.

For the look on Maggie’s face isn’t a stare of contempt but one of wistful longing. Now in her 70s, she can’t believe she’s living in a London where two teenage girls can be so open about their sexuality. Hers has been a lifetime of too much repression of her own lesbianism but as a young woman, there was a moment of true happiness, of blissful connection. And for all her contemporary openness, Daisy’s romantic history has proven far from straight-forward to date.

Schofield’s writing demonstrates a real maturity here – playing the two timelines concurrently allows for an elegant fluidity that erases notional scene structure. Lines of dialogue begin in the past and end in the present, a thought from modern-day Daisy is finished by Maggie in the 60s, and everyone loses themselves in the freedom of dancing to pop music no matter when they’re from. Rachel Lincoln’s production runs with this elegiac sense of beauty, and Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey’s design of ingeniously flexible suspended beams is as playful as it is nicely evocative of NY girders. 

It’s a shame that If We Were Older is only receiving such a short run as aside from being a damn good piece of powerfully moving drama, it also provides a corrective balance to the other big opening of the week at the NT in The Lehman Trilogy. Whereas that is indubitably pale and male (if not necessarily stale), this mini LGBT+ powerful features an all-female cast, majority female creative team, and diversity in age and colour. This only gets three performances as opposed to three months for the men though, so hurry to the Dorfman and don’t miss out! (NB for those with the power to do these things, please commission a full-length version ASAP).

Running time: 40 minutes
If We Were Older is booking at the National Theatre until 13th July, 5.30pm performances

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