Endearing and utterly captivating - Our Generation on the Chichester stage

Our Generation, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until May 14.

The company of Our Generation - Photo Johan Persson

There’s an incredibly poignant moment towards the end of the second Act when a group of young people start to voice their hopes for 2020.

We all know what’s coming next after the interval – and that’s the power of this play, that it brings our descent into the pandemic and all its implications into such sharp and chilling focus.

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But that’s just the last Act. The piece as a whole is a remarkable panorama of a group of teenagers through what have turned out to be five of the most turbulent years in living memory.

The result is endearing, massively engaging and utterly captivating – a total triumph for all concerned. Almost certainly it’s director and CFT artistic director Daniel Evans’ finest moment at the Festival Theatre.

It is also a brilliant realisation of playwright Alecky Blythe’s vision when she dreamt up the idea of interviewing 12 real-life youngsters across half a dozen years and distilling it all into a panoramic masterpiece.

So strange to think that no one could possibly have known what those years would entail when she embarked on the project.

But maybe the real stroke of genius is that Blythe and Evans have found precisely the company to do it all justice – a scintillating group of young actors, still very much at the start of their careers who deliver it all with a completely winning mix of total fluency and total naturalness.

The piece really brings home the fact that these are real words from (renamed) youngsters from all four corners of the UK as they move from their teenage years into young adulthood.

We get it all, from the pressures of school, friendships, social media and parents through to the darker moments of physical abuse, drug abuse, family breakdown and mental breakdown. And yet we get it all with humour, vibrancy and hope.

At the start of the evening your heart might just sink at little at the thought of a show lasting three and a half hours. By the end your heart will be rejoicing in this beautiful celebration of resilience. The time will fly by. In fact, you will probably wander out wanting to see it again.

It is densely packed with the whole of these young lives – and brilliantly walks the tightrope of being consistently funny yet never for a moment belittling any of the challenges the young people are facing.

At first perhaps you might be a little overwhelmed as so many characters are introduced more or less simultaneously, but very soon they are delineated each and every one; and the performances both individually and collectively are superb.

They work together so well, flowing fast and seamlessly, that it would be wrong to single out anyone. This is ensemble theatre at its finest. Mention one, and you must mention them all: a terrific cast which boasts Dee Ahluwalia, Joe Bolland, Anna Burnett, Anushka Chakravarti, Debbie Chazen, Gavi Singh Chera, Rachelle Diedericks Hasan Dixon, Hélder Fernandes, Sarita Gabony, Conor Gormally, Alex Jarrett, Kat Kumar, Ed Larkin, Callum Mardy, Poppy Shepherd and Stephanie Street.

Between them they offer a reminder of the great consolation of growing older, namely that it must be so much harder to be young right now than it was in our day.

And yet they still invest their troubled journeys with wit and energy and hope. Think how hard the past couple of years have been for young people. Our Generation is the perfect acknowledgement of the courage of all those who have somehow managed to come out the other side.

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