There’s a teenage riot goin’ on! Or: a new uppercut by Ontroerend Goed

Are they really thát confused? It’s rather unsettling to watch those eight teenagers in Teenage Riot, the new play by Ontroerend Goed, which premiered last night at the Kopergietery (Ghent). With Once and for all… this Flemish theatre company got invited to Sydney, New York and Montreal, so it goes without saying that the expectations were really high for this new one. And even though you could say that Teenage Riot deals with the same issues, in a similar way, there’s one thing that makes you forget all the negative comments you could have: the clever and visually impressive way by which director Alexander Devriendt tells this story.

There’s a big box on stage. At the beginning of Teenage Riot the eight teenagers open the doors to their windowless ‘clubhouse’ and get inside. The front wall is used as a video screen for the audience and on that screen we are watching, by means of real-time video footage, what is happening inside. It’s an incredibly clever trick. It refers to that sometimes suffocating, claustrophobic feeling of being a teenager, and to that visual YouTube- and Skype-culture that surrounds them nowadays.

And it provides director Alexander Devriendt with a smart way out for a difficult problem: how to get these teenagers to tell their story in a not too old-fashioned, theatrical way, but in a way that is very ‘now’ and suiting. One of the teenagers is even referring to it, when he gets out of the box, and addresses the audience, without looking at them (but we see his face because he is filming it): ‘I don’t want to look at you while I’m talking. In my head all the words sound right, but when I utter them, they all come out in a strange and awkward way and then you think I’m stupid.’

Throughout the whole performance I was in awe of this clever, theatrical setting. It makes this rebellious and confusing Teenage Riot a play that really gets under your skin. Because what these teenagers have to tell you, isn’t comforting. You see deeply troubled young people, trying to find a way to deal with life and their parents. Of course there’s a lot of humour involved in this performance, and they are making fun of themselves too, but the underlying tone isn’t a reassuring one. Yes, it’s hilarious to see two girls sitting on the roof, talking about ways to stay thin. Yes, it’s funny to see one boy explaining about the best way to use your finger to please a girl. But all these stories make it clear how distressing it is to be a teenager in this day and age.

 At the end of the performance most of the teenagers in the audience immediately got out of their seats for a standing ovation. That made it clear that Alexander Devriendt and his actors have found a way to speak to their hearts. But for lots of parents this will be an unsettling evening. Especially because of the words of reproach that the teenagers throw at them. ‘I pity you because you don’t have any grip on this world that surround you. You’ve given up. You aren’t an example to me, I see you as a warning. You’re locked inside a cage and what beats me is that you don’t even seem to want to get out of it.’

‘I hope that when I’m 84, I’ll be as angry as I am now, being 14.’ 

Teenage riot? Yes it is. And then we’ve said nothing about those tomatoes yet. Go and see for yourself.

Tour schedule here.

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