Youth Club Review ****
You don’t have to share Neary’s background to appreciate her evocative portrayal of being a teen in Camborne, Cornwall, where the only entertainment is the local youth club. However if you do happen to have also have been 15 in 1987 and grew up in a similarly boring town, you’ll know that her observations in this wonderful not-quite-coming-of-age tale are spot-on.
It’s slightly disconcerting that Neary initially takes to the stage as herself, or at least the narrator of the piece, as we’re so used to her pretending to be someone else. In previous shows this has been anything from a repressed Forties housewife to a bemused deer.
But she introduces the tale as her endearing, slightly gauche self to announce that ‘any resemblance to living persons is fair enough, as I’ve not bothered to change the names’. This year the costumes are basic to say the least – a hankie and a blanket are pretty much all she needs. Instead she relies on her considerable performance skills to bring to life the world of the youth club disco – one of warm orange and pineapple squash, ping pong and kids who try to be cool by changing the spelling of their names.
Our protagonist is Diana Budd, a young woman more at home in the 19th century who has huge crush on pastel jumper-wearing Gavin. Her friends are socially inept nerds of the kind that turn out to be loyal friends for life: Andrew the Dungeons and Dragons spod, Tamsin and her collection of novelty erasers and Lisa who has a ‘borderline sexual relationship with her cat’ (at this point you really are hoping that she’s changed the names, at least that of the cat…)
The story is quirkily told and beautifully written. Tamsin is described as having ‘permed her fringe – but other than that she was trustworthy’ and Diana in a purple bat-wing cardigan is described by a teacher as ‘dressed as everyone’s favourite sweet.’ Neary mines those teenage years for the ultimate embarrassment. A song the lovestruck Diana composes in the her head while walking to the youth club is sung out loud complete with ‘sexy moves’.
Neary adopts a series of daft voices and facial expressions to differentiate between the characters – as most speak with a Cornish accent it’s not an easy feat – and there are only a couple of times where you’re not sure who’s who.
As it’s set in the Eighties, music plays a huge part in setting scenes, and is an excuse for some silly dancing – always a joy in a Neary show. To the youth club kids the B52s’ Rock Lobster hints at something more interesting away from the rubbish novelty number ones like The Firm’s Star Trekkin’. A jazz number at the end evokes the cheeky innocence of the rude rhymes all kids recited in the playground alongside a musical portrait of the top deck of the bus at 3.30pm every day, in every town.
There’s a quality to Neary that makes her inherently funny, even her scripted water break gets a laugh. Youth Club is a departure from previous works but still holds all those treasured Neary hallmarks.