Created by The Paper Birds, a devising theatre company with a social and political agenda, ‘Ask Me Anything’ is at first glance a show about providing teenagers with the advice they need. With the internet they have so much information at their finger tips, but information can only help so much. What about learning from the experiences of those who came before?
Georgie Coles, Rosie Doonan and Kylie Perry bring a great warmth to the show, as the central performers, who are essentially playing themselves. There is a vibrant vulnerability in the way they try to open up about their own lives in order to answer the varied questions put to them by confused teens. Who are these teens, I hear you ask. While this is not detailed explicitly in the show, we are all given a handy leaflet that explains more. The Paper Birds worked with 3 schools and 3 youth theatres from a range of locations and economic backgrounds. Ahh, ok, I should have read the leaflet first, but no biggie.
The set and the design are brilliant. So much detail, you feel like you’ve been transported back into the teen bedrooms of our 3 performers. Or in the case of Georgie Coles’ room, you actually have because her mum was having a clear out. Add to this some really clever use of technology to bring the modern era of constant connection and answers to life, in a wonderful and effective use of mixed media. But it isn’t all about the tech. With the use of old diaries, beautiful original songs, and a enjoyably silly but dated TV show format, these women try to help. Or they sort of do, as they are often evasive about their own experiences. Rosie Doonan has some really lovely and powerful songs about being a mum, and her son, but seems to avoid anything that isn’t motherhood related. Georgie Coles is sure there must be something useful in her diary, somewhere. Kylie Perry has great fun doing her TV show, but seems to be vague about the truthfulness of certain experiences.
This sense of answering, but withholding, permeates the piece. Fortunately they have the back-up of more expert voices, brought into the space via video, who do address some of the trickier questions. But there is still a pile of letters they are all avoiding… Ultimately this is a show about not having the answers. Why do we think the older generation know more? Should one generation be telling the next how to live? What to think? How to feel? Or should we be having a conversation and listening to each other? If you take the pressure of needing to know the answers away, surely that is going to open things up in terms of multi-generational communication.
There is a very serious point at the heart of this show. One that is hinted at but doesn’t get fully revealed until the end. I think there was room to be more explicit about it earlier, as it can feel at times like the piece meanders on its way to the point. The ingredients are great, and the show is both warm-hearted and thought-provoking, but the pacing doesn’t always work. At times I found my mind wandering to other things, before realising and pulling myself back to focus on the show. It didn’t hold my attention throughout, as I wasn’t clear where we were going, in terms of the story arch and journey. It is a patchwork piece, and while the thread bringing it all together does become clear come the end, I felt a bit disoriented in places.
‘Ask Me Anything’ is running at Vault Festival until 16th February in the 7.15pm slot. This will be followed by a UK tour. You can find out more about locations and dates here: https://www.thepaperbirds.com/tour-dates/