THEATRE REVIEW: Unlocked and Unbolted at Corn Exchange, Newbury

The Corn Exchange, Newbury is back with indoor live theatre, and what a return! Unlocked & Unbolted, written and directed by Bryn Holding, was based on the thoughts and ideas of 14 to 21 year olds and performed by a cast of eleven 16 to 18 year olds in an empty performance area below the stage, bare of audience chairs apart from a single row around three sides of the area. The performance I saw was sold out with an audience of 24.

It’s the story of 2020 seen through young people’s eyes and narrated by the cast with lines passing from one person to the next at a great pace. Constantly on the move around the lines on the floor, they managed to keep the social distancing. This was beautifully choreographed by Movement Director Sophie Cottle and skilfully navigated with perfect timing by the cast.

In itself, this was a seriously impressive piece of theatre, but of course what they were talking about is at the heart of the production. Starting before the lockdown, the unease starts to spread, along with the realisation that the grownups – family, teachers, government – don’t know the answers because this has never happened before.

Moving through clapping for carers, Black Lives Matter and gender issues, there’s some existential angst over Who Am I? As the lockdown eases, what’s our tomorrow going to be? Can we make a fresh start?

The 40-minute production ended with Unlocked Anthem, a song composed and organised by Tamsin Kennard and recorded remotely by a platoon of volunteers: things have changed but love will stay the same. A tentative message of hope for young people, amplified when two of the cast break the distancing and embrace – a gesture that seemed daring and slightly shocking.

The acting by the entire cast was extremely good, and the whole production was very moving. There were only three performances, but it was subsequently recorded live without an audience and you can see this until 12th September at cornexchangenew.com/event/unlocked-unbolted-broadcast

Congratulations to the cast and production team for an enthralling performance and to the Corn Exchange for bringing live indoor theatre back to West Berkshire.

Paul Shave

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