The plot from Rita Kalnejais’s new play sounds a bit like it’s from one of those suspiciously well-thumbed romance novels with pastel-tinted cover art: in rural France, a young girl falls for a German soldier, and risks everything to succumb to his dashing charms. But in Kalnejais’s hands, this soppy-sounding story is anything but pastel: it’s brilliant, and day-glo brite.
It’s the follow-up to her bonkers fox fantasia ‘First Love is the Revolution’, which burst into Soho Theatre last year in a flurry of fur and chicken feathers. This time round, she’s layered her story of first love with karaoke pop hits (Adele and Little Mix) and set it in a kind of nest of blankets, where two teenagers make out, and try to insulate themselves from the even more earth-shattering events outside it.
Otto and Elodie talk like modern-day schoolkids, in a vivid reminder that not everyone struggling through the ’40s had a remorselessly stiff upper lip, or enough moral fibre to craft a wholefood breakfast cereal from. And Kalnejais’s properly funny dialogue hammers this point home by sticking in deliberate anachronisms: Otto (Bradley Hall) haltingly admits that he just didn’t ‘get’ Hitler’s work until he saw one of his live gigs. And Elodie is as relentlessly kittenish as he is taciturn. In Hannah Millward’s overblown, endlessly watchable performance, she’s a girl whose self-obsession doesn’t need an Instagram account to play out on now she’s found Otto.
Yard boss Jay Miller’s tech-heavy production stays just the right side of ‘too much’, heightening their already-heightened world with digital projections and a queasy synthy soundtrack. And as they chat, they show how lightly we wear huge ideologies, and how history’s black-and-white facts explode, on closer inspection, into endless shades of moral grey.
Grown-up versions of Otto and Elodie oversee the action, hovering at the edge of the stage like parents at a house party: I wasn’t always sure how they fitted into the mix, but their kindly presence felt like a gesture of compassion towards these snotty, doomed teenagers. Because however overwhelming an hour in their company might be, they definitely don’t deserve to have their faith in a ‘beautiful future’ quite so thoroughly crushed.
'This Beautiful Future' returns to The Yard in November 2017, with a new cast. This review is from its May 2017 premiere.