Salford Arts Theatre; Saturday 11th September, 2021
A secluded fly-tipping spot somewhere in Salford: a group of bored teenagers idly gather to have it out with each other; to take the piss; to find out who’s doing what; find out what he said; find out what she said – work out whether any of it actually means anything.
It feels like typical teenage banter on a dull weekend – so then why is one of them dressed in school uniform?
In 2019, a then-seventeen-year-old Libby Hall wrote and presented The Melting Of A Single Snowflake, which was delivered as part of that year’s Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. Fast forward to the 2021 festival and her latest fringe offering – Your Playground Voice Is Gone – further develops some of the original themes to craft what feels like the next episode of some larger, youth-centred drama series.
On stage are seven of Salford’s finest adolescents: the brainy nerd; the nosey one; the gullible one; the weedy wimp; the rebel; etc.
Watching them banging on about this, that and the other is a mostly amusing spectacle, this is exclusive access to a forbidden culture that we all left behind the moment we left school. Once you leave that cohort you will never again truly know what they’re thinking and saying amongst themselves.
Some of their chat is diabolical, to the point of dismissive incredulity. Can a teenager really be made to believe fake news about the medical treatments for anal worms??? Younger kids might be gullible enough, but not teenagers, surely?
It raises an interesting and ponderous thought: they probably can.
School was the last time most of us had a truly weird and random mix of friends / close associates: the older you get the narrower your immediate, surrounding demographic gets. As an adult, your employer today will almost certainly only hire people who think and behave like you, it’s not surprising really.
So adults will rarely get to succumb to the baffling confusion and extravagant hyperbolae of teenage chat – theirs is a much more fertile ecosystem where a diverse mix of characters and personalities couple with the inevitable immaturity of young age to yield viable extremes of fear and ignorance that lead to dangerous extremes of outcome.
And that’s where this plot leads. The opening half of the show doesn’t feel as if it’s actually heading anywhere but the culmination of seemingly disparate events and circumstances is well written into a couple of sharp twists that suddenly thrust the audience out from the realm of the delinquent teenager into something far more disturbing.
Performed entirely by a cast aged 12 – 15, Your Playground Voice Is Gone is an agreeable nugget of fringe weirdness which rather engagingly and charmingly morphs from placid beginnings as an adolescent comedy towards a suspense-tinged finale as a sinister thriller.
Photography: Shay Rowan