I’ve been meaning to do it for months, years maybe, but this week I finally got around to having a clear-out. Sorting through the piles of old clothing and shoes to go the charity shop, I was determined to be stoic and hard-hearted; we really need the space in our spare room. Even with that in mind, I couldn’t bear to part with my son’s first baby shoes. They’re hardly worn, still in pristine condition, and yet they are filled with such symbolic importance that throwing them away seems unthinkable.
Shoes are an important image too in We’re Just Getting Started, an interesting new production from the Royal Exchange’s Young Company. Near the start of the play, a shower of shoes falls onto the stage from above. Many different types of footwear are represented – from children’s wellies to Converse All Star high-tops to gold glittery heels and military boots. The shoes are paired up by the cast and placed around the edge of the stage in the Royal Exchange’s Studio, ready for later use.
Penned by Guleraana Mir, We’re Just Getting Started is a series of linked vignettes exploring the theme of protest and standing together. Lots of voices are heard throughout the production. Some speeches appear to reflect the authentic thoughts and feelings of young people today while other moments explore historical figures and wider political issues and concerns. There seems to be an overarching recognition that you can’t properly understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
Under Kate Colgrave Pope’s direction, the piece is filled with dramatic shifts in tone that keep the audience engaged. There are lovely flashes of comedy as audience expectations are suddenly subverted and startling moments of poignancy, such as when a First World War soldier’s story is told through poetry. The Young Company is particularly good at challenging engrained stereotypes: a scene in which an alternative girl band sashays in pink while ridiculing people’s thoughtless comments is particularly funny. Poppy Waxman stands out with her expressive face and command of the stage.
At times, monologues spoken directly to the audience can feel a bit like being lectured to and there is a sense that that the piece has been devised to educate a young audience rather than satisfy a more mature desire for subtlety and nuance. That said, Matt Simms’ sound design nicely complements the themes being considered and the lighting (by Matt Webster) is effective throughout, particularly the use of spotlights during the James Bond scene. The title of the piece – We’re Just Getting Started – works well too; there is an implicit acknowledgment of both the relative inexperience of the group and play’s function as a starting point for further discussion and exploration. Some of the best moments in the production come when themes are presented through personal stories rather than being primarily issue-led, and perhaps character and narrative development could be areas to explore in future work.
We’re Just Getting Started makes the astute point that our choice of shoes can say a lot about who we are as people, as well as symbolising the places we’ve been. Whatever their choice of footwear, it will be interesting to follow the next steps of this talented group as their creative journey continues.
We’re Just Getting Started is running in The Studio at the Royal Exchange until 23rd February 2019