With Like There’s No Tomorrow The Playground Collective with Auckland Theatre Company have achieved an impressive feat. Wrangle thirty odd young mostly untrained actors across eight spaces with performance occurring simultaneously across three audience groups and have it all occur seamlessly. It’s a scenario which makes my producer hat a little stressed out but they’ve done it and done it well.
From the moment we arrived at the Basement, a little early for the 8pm start things were already starting to happen. We were given party hats to wear and our friend was handed a soft drink spider to sip on as the actors mingled through the crowd. Our friend Holly came out in Mayan fancy dress creating that terribly confusing moment of are you in character? Are you not? Can we have a chat or do we not know each other? That feeling soon dissipated as the crowd became more and more packed, cast members driving the atmosphere into frenzied party mode.
Soon it was time and we were allowed into the main theatre, music pounding, flashing lights, Adam laughed, ‘Holy crap it is like our after balls’. We danced a little and then a guy fell on the ground. It was a prank but the story had begun. The story of a bunch of teenagers at their school after ball, two weeks after one of their friends had died after trying to jump from a roof. He was supposed to land in the pool. He didn’t. With this revelation the audience is separated by party hat colour and led off to experience the rest of the play, a cluster fuck of teenagedom wrapped up in the ecstasy of the party. Or the train wreck.
Led by the dearly departed Joseph (played by Andrew Gunn) the cast is obviously a fun time excelling in those play zones of improv and ad lib. Gunn is full energy as he lingers in the memories of his close ones and is a definite strength. The rest of the cast is hard to judge though. In the moment they’re brilliant, totally catching the ball and driving the story but moments of memory, internal turmoil come across as speeches, the cast stepping out of the moment and not in a good way. This made me overtly conscious of the production side of the show. The set (Jessika Veryt), lighting (Nik Janiurek) and sound (Gareth Hobbs) set the scene undeniably while it was the careful timing, moments smoothly flowing into each other that really make it an impressive piece of work. It’s a show that not many other companies could pull off but with the weight of ATC behind it, it’s a triumph.
I had a lot of fun at Like There’s No Tomorrow (LTNT), the group I was with joining in at every opportunity (coughactorscough) but it also made me extremely uncomfortable. An early review I’d seen claimed that this is the one show your teenager should see. In my opinion it’s the exact opposite. Underlying the work is supposedly a health promotion message, they’re even making a documentary and education pack to send to schools. It’s supposed to be a lesson. But the lesson I took from it is not a good one.
EDIT: I’ve since been informed that the play was not funded by the health promotion agency and in of itself was not meant to convey a health promotion message. There is a documentary that will be in schools in response to the play which was funded. The night I attended the show it was being filmed for the documentary ergo the confusion. Regardless, I stand by the comment that it was not a play that your teenagers ‘should see’.
Like UK teen drama Skins, LTNT explores the dark side of teenage drinking culture and like Skins no lesson is learnt. Joseph died from a stupid dare – but his friends are still doing them, they’re still drinking too much – they have to ‘keep the party going for Joey!’. Sure it’s realistic but is it a good lesson? No. Skins taught members of my generation to have ‘Skins parties’ to drink and take drugs to extreme levels, to destroy things. These ideas aren’t new in general but it set a new standard. LTNT reminded me of that.
Even more disturbing is the construction of the audience. Drunk adults getting off on underage binge drinking. But that’s not new either. Growing up in New Zealand getting pissed with your parents and parents friends is a rite of passage. Yard glasses at 21st birthday parties being a gross indication of our older and wiser generations attitudes towards binge drinking. Youth get demonised for their bad habits but we learnt it from the adults…
Like There’s No Tomorrow is a good time, there’s no denying that and technically it’s an impressive piece of work but its supposed role as a piece of health promotion falls flat. Sure they had cards for a drinking support phoneline on the bar but they were off to one side, barely noticeable. I imagine it’s supposed to be a warning, a shock but LTNT comes across as celebrating youth binge drinking without any true insight to the consequences. Perhaps the documentary will address where the play falls short but the play in of itself won’t teach teenagers to be more cautious or to reflect on how they’re behaving. It shows how much fun it is to be reckless, indestructible, on top of the world.
Teenagers will watch Like There’s No Tomorrow and think hey – that looks like fun, I’ll be the one to win the dare.