A year ago the newly refurbished Young Vic opened its doors with Tobias and the Angel, a spectacular community opera. This year’s community venture is more modest: it is a 90-minute wordless piece, accompanied by music (Gary Yershon), devised and performed in the studio by six professionals and 29 Lambeth and Southwark residents. Its virtues and flaws are modest too: on the plus side it has delicacy, charm and warmth; on the minus a tendency to simplify and to stray into whimsy. But as an enterprise it is entirely positive. I returned home from the press night to the news of yet another youth killing in one of our big cities: against this backdrop, to see local people collaborating across age, gender, colour and class to create a piece about tolerance is heartening indeed.
The show is inspired by Alain Berliner’s 1997 film about a young boy who wants to be a girl. Ludovic tries on his mother’s dresses, joins in the girls’ games, pretends to marry his best friend and finally causes uproar in the neighbourhood by slipping on a frock in the school play. The drama’s wordless style limits interpretation, however: one can’t say that it offers a complex reading of the problems of integrating. The community’s response here tends to be wholesale rejection, as they bear down, beetle-browed, on Ludovic; or wholesale acceptance, as they dance the conga en masse. Nor does it offer any tangible sense of where or when the community exists.
But where the show succeeds is in creating the dreamy, half-lit space of Ludovic’s interior world. Visually, it is a beautifully composed and cohesive piece, achieving striking and eloquent images. As Ludovic feels the first stirrings of his confused sexuality, the frocks in his mother’s wardrobe dance towards him, swaying tantalisingly. As he experiences fleeting happiness with his friend (Ian Bonar), the two swoop about the stage on a giant swing. And as a poignant expression of his desperate attempts to please his father, he repeatedly struggles to kick a football back to him, weighed down, however, by the growing pile of balls that he has failed to return. Pete Harris, directing, and Ayse Tashkiran, co-ordinating movement, draw lovely ensemble work from the cast, who all deliver impressively. And there is an irresistible generosity about the piece that is summed up in Adrian DeCosta’s touching performance as Ludovic.