Hampstead Theatre (venue)
29 October 2018 (released)
30 October 2018
I and You, the Hampstead Theatre’s current production, is the work of Lauren Gunderson, an American playwright whose plays have been produced widely in the States. In this production, we have a play about two teen-agers, Caroline and Anthony. Set in a stereotypical teenager’s headquarters, Caroline’s bedroom, the opening dialogue leads us to expect a conventional teen-age drama. However, there is a difference here. Caroline has a serious illness, she needs a liver transplant, and that life-threatening fact, sits behind and resonates throughout her interaction with an initially-unwelcome visitor from her high school class, Anthony, who has come to complete a homework assignment with her.
Their interaction moves from initial conventional banter, which feels exaggerated and disappointing as the play opens, to a more soul-searching engagement between the two classmates as things develop. It’s not clear if this initial dialogue is a weakness in the play or is a balancing act used by Gunderson to create a contrast between these light moments and the more difficult issues which are due to arise concerning her illness. In any case, the play builds significantly in interest and dramatic tension as it moves along.
The homework assignment which Anthony brings involves an analysis of the poetry of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the use of quotations and ideas from Whitman’s work adds depth and meaning to the dialogue and exchange between the two classmates. These well-chosen quotations add a spiritual dimension to the two teenagers’ view of themselves and of life and expand the meaning of the medical situation on which the story is based.
Both Maisie Williams and Zach Wyatt give strong and convincing performances as Caroline and Anthony, as the sole actors on stage for 90 minutes of non-stop performance. Apart from the performances, the strength of the play is in its structure and development – there is a power and dynamism in the movement of the play which culminates in a surprising plot-twist at the end.
This is a very clever way to bring the subject of organ transplant into a story about the interaction between two teenagers which provides a very personal view of the issue – and the addition of the poetry of Whitman somehow elevates the personal perspective into something more universal. Gunderson has tackled a difficult subject in both a light and serious way – her popularity seems well-deserved and this production will add to it.