Features Published 23 March 2015

Necessary Friction

Shamser Sinha on creating his new play The Dissidents with the Tricycle's Young Company.
Shamser Sinha

During rehearsals for  my play The Dissidents I picked up some flyers for the show and asked if I could keep a couple as mementoes. Mark Londesborough the Creative Learning Director, joked I could stick them on my wall next to my Olivier Awards. I laughed because I thought an Olivier Award might be a bit of a way off. But I had another thought too. I’d rather have the flyer for The Dissidents than any award.

The Dissidents was a Tricycle Young Company commission. The Creative Learning Department at the Tricycle Theatre asked me to write a play that reflected the Young Company’s lives, passions and concerns as well as my own. I began to learn about these through a series of workshops with the Young Company, running once a week prior to Christmas.

In those workshop sessions the dramaturg Nic Wass, the director Beth Shouler, the assistant director Rob Lehmann, and myself asked them about their lives and their thoughts. We also gave the Company a space to suggest things outside of our prompting. In response, I sometimes worked up a general dialogue as a provocation and learnt as much from consensus with the Company as from the points where they questioned both the accents and the social backgrounds of the characters and the narrative and the incidents presented in the play. On one occasion a member of the Company talked about wanting to step beyond the boundaries of being portrayed as ‘street’. That friction helped produce the character of Juan in The Dissidents and some of the other different points of view between the actors were also similarly productive.

The play which emerged from this process was not satisfied with the proposition of ‘giving young people a voice’. That risks patronizing them by allowing people to respond to them in a well worn and well meaning way, labelling them as ‘energetic’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘positive’. While this is better than the more commonplace ideas of them being ‘lazy’, ‘feckless’, and ‘negative’, the kind of talk which is propagated in so many corners of the media, it’s still simplistic. But perhaps there’s something more at stake when you are confronted by the weight (or liberty?) of having 21 actors aged 19-25 and the possibility of doing something more risky and provocative. The resulting play used the friction of the process to its advantage. It creates a challenge to young people: to give a voice to themselves, to take action, to unsettle things – to dissent. It challenges them not only to tell us what they’re angry about, or to impress us with their ‘energy’ and ‘positivity’ but to ask them to figure out why things are the way they are in the first place and what they want to do about it? To go further, to go beyond.

The impending election sharpens this need. I can understand the voter apathy of many young people. It’s politicians who are not engaging with politics, not the rest of us. Some of the Young Company talked about not voting and not knowing about politics – but they did know, even if they did not know they did – when they talked about parenthood, jobs, student life, things soaked with the politics of everyday life. It’s time for plays not only to portray young people’s experiences but also the reasons they’re experiencing the things they are – and to ask them whether they agree or not. There’s a lot more value in that than an Olivier Award.

Main image: The Tricycle Young Company

Shamser Sinha’s The Dissidents is being presented by the Tricycle Young Company as part of their Takeover 2015 from 26th – 28th March 2015.




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