Perhaps one of these things is not like the others: Pol Heyvaert, a Belgian director; Jakob Ampe, a Belgian musician join forces with confrontational British comedian and performance artist Kim Noble to make a show with, by, and about a group of British teenagers. But then again, who better: if there are two things that absolutely define your life and self as a young person, it’s your music and your sense of humour. What could be more quintessentially adolescent than a play that combines the two?
But Wild Life FM at the Unicorn Theatre is not exactly a play. It’s a live radio show. It’s a gig. It’s an audio-visual performance collage. It’s an original playlist played over a diary entry mixed with a group text. It is about, as the website says, what it’s like to be young today. And it really is.
‘Young’ is loosely defined—the Unicorn recommends audiences members no younger than fourteen. It feels directed at an age cohort that at its upper limit has seriously considered Harry Potter’s sex life, and at its lower, possibly had their first break-up partly in emoji. Each performer—all staggeringly talented—has a thread, but there’s no narrative as such. It’s more like overhearing a lunchtime conversation between a group of school kids—there are gaps, there are things that don’t connect or don’t quite make sense or turn out to have been more important than you quite realized they were supposed to be—but despite the lack of absolute structural cohesion or clarity, it is an overwhelming evocation of a time and a feeling and a joyful and painful way of being in the world.
Opening night on 21 January was broadcast live on Resonance FM, but anyone who tuned in there missed the splendidly funny and clever projections (you’ll also miss some of them if you aren’t seated in the centre section of the Unicorn’s upstairs Weston Theatre, so elbow your way to the front of the general seating queue). Aside from these, the black stage is stripped down to the essentials: some microphones with colourful covers and exposed cords, a sound-mixing table with some Mac laptops. The company wanders in and out; they whisper to each other and shift things around and generally make no effort to hide their work.
This willingness to leave a bit of mess is part of what makes it feel so real. There’s a sense that not everything worked out quite as intended in the devising process; some of the seams still show. There are moments I still can’t classify with certainty as scripted or improvised. There are bits and pieces that don’t totally work. I don’t feel totally confident that if I went back tomorrow, the show wouldn’t somehow be completely different.
It’s a show you can’t take notes about, don’t really want to be a critic about, don’t really want to be an adult about. You want to sit and feel it, to cheer and laugh at it, to speak in the kinds of unambiguous absolutes that you can only muster when you’re young and the rest of your life is an agonising mire of chaos and uncertainty. So I will: I loved this show. It made my heart feel full.
Wild Life FM is on at Unicorn Theatre until 20th January. Book tickets here.