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Review of Immune by R&D Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The cover note for the script of Oladipo Agboluaje's Immune describes it as "a challenging science fiction play with a large cast", and the word challenging in this case is not a lie. This is a fast paced, multi-cast changing script which leaves little room for error for its young cast in the performance. If the script isn't enough to handle for the young performers, director Christopher Elmer-Gorry and designer Carl Davies have made the situation even more complex for the actors with the set and stage work. Having to manhandle great panels on wheels and a huge cube, which also splits in two occasionally, during scene changes requires skill, coordination and cooperation of a high level.

As if all this is not enough, the actual story is epic enough for the relatively small stage of the Royal. Attempting to form an apocalyptic world (albeit only happening in Plymouth) offers challenges in itself, but Agboluaje's script does that in a sort of apocalypse in the teacup style. The release of the gas (stimulating on the nose in the auditorium) and the eventual depiction of the mass of bodies is vividly told through the young actors reactions. We can see the horror through their eyes, even if nothing is ever seen on stage.

While the large cast of actors are all great in their individual roles, I can't help but pick a few for a mixture of both performance and great developed characters by the writer. Owen Howard is wonderful as the desperate Craig who feels the weight of thinking he will be remembered for destroying the world. Also Ethan Kelly is quietly superb as the god fearing Peter, portraying his fears that he personally has brought this upon everyone with excellent emotion. Finally Esme Joy Allen, who had happily ate dirt in a previous performance of DNA I had seen last year, was simply wonderful as the flirty, hair flipping Bella and I felt quite a pang of fear midway though the play for what befell her character.

There are a number of magic little scenes not least the class group performances providing some "cool" dancing, singing and a gloriously desperate Angie (Emily Winnett) needing to show her video, "I've done mine". The slow motion fight at the top of the cube between George and Eric is also wonderful little gem, excellently performed by Jake Carter and Jarzinho Rapoz. Also the final scene of the strike is also spectacularly well staged, totally lighting up the Royal as the end arrives, and with that poignant final scene. Getting that perfect finish to a play can be challenging at times, but Immune has no problems with it.

Agboluaje has created through working with the three youth theatre groups a clever, thoughtful piece of work brimming with neat ideas. Those like the individual characters speaking out their thoughts is superbly ingenious, as is the ensemble speaking in unison the words of the unseen adults.

It all combined creates a clever full hour of entertainment. which is without doubt the most complex R&D youth company play I have seen to date, I am sure that it will go a long way to provide the skills so early for any of the performers who seek to make this their career. This straight after the triumphantly clever Kontakt has provided a couple of weeks of magic for the youth theatre at Royal & Derngate. Under the expert guidance there at the moment, they just might be creating a few little stars of the future.


Performance reviewed: Thursday 3rd July, 2015 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Immune is performed by the R&D Youth Theatre at the Royal & Derngate between Thursday 3rd July and Saturday 4th July, 2015, before being performed by Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire from 23rd July, 2015 and Theatre Royal Plymouth from Wednesday 19th August, 2015.

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


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