Review: Nottingham Playhouse NT Connections Festival. “Is My Microphone On?”

Jordan Tannahill’s hour-long performance piece Is My Microphone On?, written for a large ensemble of young actors in their teens and early twenties, has been chosen to be performed on the main stage at Nottingham Playhouse. It is part of NT Connections and directed by Sarah West Valstar. The work is performed by the Nottingham Playhouse Connections Company whose company on stage totals over thirty participants. There are no named characters as in play but individuals and groups of players do express their opinions and stories both personal, pro-environment action, and political and they definitely question them – out loud. The microphones are certainly switched on.

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Is My Microphone On? feels like four historically major theatre methodologies and have collided and colluded: Bertolt Brecht’s Verfrendungseffekt (The Alienation Effect), Augusto Boal’s ground-breaking work The Theatre of the Oppressed, Agitprop Theatre which originated in Russia as a way for giving voice and protest to the common people and the very British In Yer Face theatre. Whether these are the playwright’s influences I know not but … whilst the young people’s laudable, very confident and striking performances give one hope for the future of the theatre and are impressively well-supported here at the Nottingham Playhouse, the piece feels one of confused mixed messages. The jump-cut opinions expressed through the scripting can’t seem to make their mind up about how they wish the audience to respond. From the off anyone older than the cast are uniformly told that their pointless life is over and the world is the young people’s world now. “And oh… Mum and Dads and Government authorities and Multi- Billionaires, thanks very much for leaving us with the serious amounts of mess to sort out.”

The premise of the whole piece is that the previous generations have completely and wilfully f*cked up everything from Green politics to World Peace and that the present government need removing wholesale post haste. There clearly are some broad truths in these accusations. But who has the answers? Can things be put right through anger and rhetoric? What are the solutions to this allegedly bleak economic and environmental world view? Does protest and sometimes outright violence solve anything? Should the young people’s voices be heard? Are they right to be quite so across-the-board dismissive of others that have come before them? Where is the balance and positivity?

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Whilst one hour of stage traffic and theatrically fabricated protest, however well-intentioned in the form of a theatre piece, may offer the young actors plenty of chances to be articulate and passionate about their beliefs (and they certainly have both of these positive qualities in abundance) the subjects covered in Is My Microphone On? are too many and too huge to address in sixty minutes. However, we applaud the opportunity from NT Connections to offer their young practitioners across the country chances to speak, to shout, to be humanly poignant, to play music and to rebel through theatre. May that never change.

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The premise of Tannahill’s Is My Microphone On? performance is based on this statement and an important question.

‘Young people will no longer be able to avoid the consequences of climate change. Speaking to the adults in the audience and holding them to account, young people question the choices that have not been made, the ones that children will be forced to make and what kind of future they stand to inherit. How do we move on from here?’

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