Review: Our Town Needs a Nandos at Liverpool Everyman ****
Over its 10 years (and counting) Young Everyman and Playhouse has nurtured creative talent not only on stage but in all areas of theatre-making.
Our Town Needs a Nandos (that should really be Nando's of course) comes from YEP writer graduate Samantha O’Rourke who was inspired by her time as a teaching assistant in a school. And what she has created from that is an impressive piece of theatre.
O’Rourke has put strong young female voices, with all their hopes and dreams, firmly centre stage in a production which is full of energy and imagination.
Set in the North Walian town of Rhyl (number of Nando’s = nil), the play charts a group of teenage girls’ bumpy journey towards womanhood.
Her quintet of fierce and funny characters, brought vividly to life by the assured and talented young cast (three YEP acting graduates among them), are each battling their own personal demons and facing down challenges as they negotiate everyday life in the small seaside town while dreaming of better times to come.
There’s a lot to unpack – on balance, perhaps a little too much actually, with O’Rourke adding practically every current issue and talking point to the pot over the production’s two-hour running time.
I think the only thing that doesn’t get an airing (sadly) is the pernicious prevalence of violent porn and how that affects boys’ - and by extension girls' - attitudes to sex and relationships.
This desire to tackle a myriad of issues is almost overwhelming and means some, such as eating disorders, can feel a little there-and-then-gone.
Above: Rachel (Mali O'Donnell) and Chloe (Jada-Li Warrican). Top: Zahidah (Nadia Anim) and Ellie (Chloe Hughes). Photos by Mhairi Bell-Moodie
But equally there are important conversations provoked about a panoply of often difficult subjects including violence against women and girls, abuse, bullying, burgeoning sexuality, peer pressure, being an outsider, control of your own body, risk taking, suicide, family relationships and a lack of female role models (less history, more ‘herstory’!).
Kalli Tant’s Beth is the intelligent disruptor impatient to throw off the shackles of school and small town to forge her own path, while Ellie’s (Chloe Hughes) risk-taking bravado hides a difficult home life and Rachel (Mali O’Donnell) is a people-pleaser trying to keep a foot in every camp.
Zahidah (Nadia Anim) hides the brutal reality of her former life as a refugee behind sweet-natured studiousness, while newcomer Chloe’s (Jada-Li Warrican) wild story-spinning turns out to be a protective shell against an abusive background which has seen her chased from school to school by her past.
They form a sweary, swaggering sisterhood battling the high emotions which come with teenage years – yo-yoing from crushing boredom to manic exultation and vicious fallings out to intense makings up which anyone with XX chromosomes will instantly ‘get’.
Not, as the final scene wryly underlines, that this is just a story that concerns women and girls.
Directed with vigour by Ameera Conrad and strikingly staged, O'Rourke's play is an impressive showcase for YEP and for all the creatives involved in it.