As you step in to The Shed, you are thrown back into the 2000’s with the sounds of UK Garage flowing through the space. As an audience member it suddenly took me back to my memories of secondary school and this is exactly what Michaela Coel does.
Takes us through a journey of teenager living in Hackney, exploring universal themes of growing up, falling in love and being rejected in addition to returning us to our younger days, full of hopes and dreams for the future.
In this one-woman show, Coel as 14-year-old Tracey Gordon bursts onto the scene with such energy, that the audience are immediately intrigued by the life stories she is about to tell us. On the brink of womanhood, Tracey lets us in on her daily activities and friendship groups, who even at a young age are sexually experienced. However, as the play progresses, you gather the sense of childhood being lost as the world of adulthood starts to emerge, when Tracey has to suddenly cope with things that a 14-year-old should never have to. Reality hits the audience as we come to understand that these are the type of circumstances that young people have been and are handling, with it becoming more intense as years have gone by.
As the audience, we take on the voyeuristic role of society, the ones who walk past, roll their eyes and/or avoid eye contact with these young people, forgetting that we have all been at this stage in our lives. However, within this minimal theatre space, we are directly faced with Coel in a space where we cannot avoid the issues. Coel plays several characters, facing domestic violence and teenage pregnancy through her best friend, to acting out a heated dialogue between Tracey and her math’s teacher who has very little to no expectations of Tracey’s future.
Coel definitely had my attention throughout. Amid such an expressional face, Coel was able to morph from one character to various others with such ease and vivaciousness, making the audience realise that we have more in common than we think with these ‘loud, vulgar’ school girls.
The collaboration between Michaela Coel and director Nadia Fall works well as both understand that no distractions are required in terms of stage set. The less there is on stage, the more we can listen to Coel as she uses a single chair for the bus and classroom scenes.
For a solo performance, Michaela Coel brings to life circumstances that we may have pushed to the back of our minds and does this through the perspective thoughts of a young person coping with it in the moment. Nevertheless, there are laughs amongst the awkward moments on the path that is from childhood to adulthood.
Chewing Gum Dreams has just completed its run at The Shed, National Theatre