Sadness, Anxiety and Pent-Up Jelly Joy
When buying tickets to an amateur theatre piece, I sometimes have the expectation that there may be a few unsteady cues, the odd missed step here or there, and perhaps a general 'rough and ready' feel to the whole affair. I am delighted to say that Winstanley College's performance of 'The Sad Club' managed to surpass my expectations and more. The show was - in a word - superb.
'The Sad Club' is a new-age theatre piece from writer of Luke Barnes, using a wonderful combination of live music, captivating songs and powerful monologues to explore the themes of depression, anxiety and the pursuit of happiness. Discussing his play, Barnes said:
"Its a collection of monologues, songs and duologues from all over time and space exploring what about living in this world stops us from being happy and how we might go about tackling those problems.I wanted to write something to get young people to think about the stuff that tripped me up in my twenties earlier in the hope that when these things hit them they'll feel less weird and might even be better equipped to handle them ." 
This performance was part of a wide showcase of local talent in the 'Connections' youth theatre festival, from the National Theatre. Each year, a selection of plays written especially for young people are commissioned by the National Theatre and then presented to schools and youth theatre groups, with the aim of having them perform one of the plays in a leading, local theatre.
When the lights hit the stage, I was immediately struck by the outstanding costume design; the vibrant sea of steampunk and gothic make-up generated the perfect resemblance of a group of outcasts, lonely yet not so alone in their collective. Particular note should be made of the subtle hints at 'clown' in the make-up design, which simultaneously achieved nuances of comedy and gave a darker edge to the more serious facial expressions. And also, kudos to the girls who were managing full dance routines whilst sporting a corset and a pair of Doc Martens ...
The set was fairly minimal but composed well. It was impressive that with only two medium sized poster boards and two stage blocks on wheels, the stage never felt empty; every inch of space felt used to its potential. The boards themselves were strewn with 'buzz words' in a handwritten style - as if they had been scrawled into the back of a notebook - picking out key themes from the play such as 'jealous', 'scared' and 'unhappy'. The style of the boards complemented the narrative device for the piece - a projection onto the back of the stage which was designed to be the page of a schoolbook with headline captions for each song and monologue.
Whilst the live music was flawless down to the last chord and the songs were performed with a great display of vocal talent paired with choreographed routines, the real strength lay in the performance of the monologues and duologues. A play that was written for young people, being performed by young people, you could feel the resonance that some of the actors felt with their roles. Each story told explored a different theme, giving a palatable experience of heartache, jealousy, anxiety and more.
Individual stories were poignant and relatable - who amongst us hasn't at one time felt the pressure to do well, or the woeful pangs of heartbreak? Lighter moments of comedy gave a pleasurable break in tension, but did not detract from the more serious undertone of the play.
Overall, this was a stellar performance by a talented young group of performers; I think that more than a couple of these teenagers could be ones to watch in the future.