Natives is a new play by the former editor of i-D magazine, Glenn Waldron, about three fourteen year-old kids growing up in different nonedescript twenty-first century cities: one in the Middle East, one somewhere (probably London) in England, and the other in an outpost for the international mega-rich (think Dubai…).
The play takes place during a single day: a day that happens to be the fourteenth birthday of each of the protagonists. Over 90 minutes, it chronicles their struggles as they attempt to live their lives vicariously through social media. Through three very different narratives it examines the pain and frustration, but also the sense of empowerment that can arise out of this dislocation.
A. is a wannabe socialite obsessed with fashion: she spends most of the play imagining she’s a young Karlie Kloss drinking Lime Cucumber Juleps in a Mui Mui store. B.’s online interests are more overtly disturbed: violent movies and porn. Meanwhile, C.’s passion is gaming, in particular Hiro’s Kingdom 5.
The interweaving of these three digital natives’ narratives, which interrelate but never directly collide, presents a picture of the various different outcomes that can arise out of over-exposure to the hyperreal: A. learns to reject the artificiality of all she has formerly valued; B.’s extreme emotional distance becomes a kind of shield; whilst C. begins to learn how the internet can be used as a positive force for change.
Glenn Waldron’s script is at times really strong: it’s vivid, it’s punchy, and it draws you in. But it isn’t without its problems. Precise details concerning the characters’ backgrounds are ommitted, which is clearly a conscious choice, but it does mean that for the first 30 minutes the audience struggle to find their bearings a bit (especially as we’re flitting between 3 different narratives). It’s also a bit long: the opening sequence in particluar (involving either very esoteric or invented classical allusions…) feels a bit indulgent. It’d have a lot more impact if it were 70 minutes…
This said, Rob Drummer’s production is slick, and it’s brillinatly designed. Designer Amelia Jane Hankin’s MTV-style glossy runway (in traverse) works brilliantly as a projection screen onto which video designer Cate Blachard’s lurid meme-inspired montages are projected, subtly illustrating the themes of the text. And all this is complimented by Zoe Spurr’s sacharrine lighting design and Joe Farley and Freddie Webb’s abstract, beatsy electornic soundscape. All the design elements scream modernity and also support one another really well: especially during the final fifteen minutes when they’re in full force, giving the show a real edge.
Ella Purnell as A., Fionn Whitehead as B. and Manish Gandhi as C. are all excellent. They capture that ersatz, slightly off-beat and understated tone that’s typical of millenial culture, whilst undercutting all that with the genuine feelings – disillusionment, grief, anger – that their situations bring out.
It’s a brave piece, and thoughtfully realised. It just needs a bit of trimming, and maybe for the audiovisual effects it stores up for its closing sequences to be used less sparingly.