Tales of resilience at the CFT: "They were just so incredibly strong in the end"

Our Generation, a new play by Alecky Blythe, opens the summer season in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre (April 22-May 14), following a successful run at the National.

Alecky Blythe (writer) in rehearsal for Our Generation at the National Theatre - Photo by Johan Persson
Alecky Blythe (writer) in rehearsal for Our Generation at the National Theatre - Photo by Johan Persson

Alecky’s panoramic verbatim play tells the stories of a generation. Created from five years of interviews with 12 young people from all four corners of the UK, Our Generation promises a captivating portrait of their teenage years as they journey into adulthood.

“You never know how things are going to go down but the response has been lovely,” Alecky says. “I keep getting messages from old friends and from people that I just don’t know, just people randomly getting in touch and saying the most lovely things like they took their kids to see it or that they’re a teacher and it just resonated with them. And even teenagers have been saying lovely things about it, saying that they’re going to tell their school about it. And that is really such a big compliment. And also someone was telling me about their sister who went to see it and loved it and the sister is not someone who usually goes to the theatre, and again I just think that’s a massive compliment.

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“The initial idea was to capture the lives of a group of diverse teenagers and their journey through secondary school and also for it to be quite well spread geographically.”

Names and exact places have been changed but the teenagers interviewed for the piece come from the areas of Glasgow, Belfast, North Wales, Cambridgehsire, South London and Birmingham, coming from all sorts of different backgrounds, from state schools to big public schools, some from rural backgrounds, some from city backgrounds and from different religions.

“That was 2015 and Rufus (Norris) had just taken over at the National and was keen to get things that were more countrywide focused rather than London focused and wanted to capture the voices of teenagers.

“The piece is verbatim. I’m not putting words into their mouths. It is all their words so there is no judgement being put on those words and what I ended up with was 656 hours of audio from all these interviews that were done.

“I started interviews in 2015 with two young people in London and I had five assistants on board who were recent graduates and we found five other schools for them around the country where they would embed and where they would go every month initially and then every two months and then catch up with their young people regularly. They would whittle their interviews down to 90 minutes which they would send me every couple of months. The plan was to follow these young people for five years through to the autumn of 2020 and we all know what happened at the beginning of 2020. Suddenly we were all into lockdown and we had these young people whose lives were profoundly changed by it. Fortunately we had already built up a relationship of trust with them and even though we were not able to carry on with the interviews in person we were able to carry on with them by doing WhatsApp calls and so on. We carried on recording digitally at a distance.

“And I think what the whole thing reveals is that these kids are just incredibly resilient. Even before Covid came along they had enough challenges in their lives, more challenges than, I think, I or my generation had when we were their age. And also they’ve got the tyranny of social media that you can never never escape from. So already I thought that they had a lot on their plates and then there was Covid but in the end they just came across as being incredibly resilient and hopeful. None of them were crushed by it. There were moments that were difficult for some of them. A couple talk about having breakdowns but they were just so incredibly strong in the end.”

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