JOYCE MCMILLAN on BASSETT at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 29.3.11
4 stars ****
THE LYCEUM YOUTH THEATRE has a high reputation in the world of theatre made by young people; and it has rarely been so well deserved as in this unforgettable and disturbing new show, which will revisit the Lyceum in June. James Graham’s Bassett is one of the new plays written by a UK-wide team of professional playwrights for this year’s National Theatre Connections youth event; and over an intense 50-minutes, it offers a searing study of the growing appeal of right-wing ideas about nationhood for a struggling generation of youngsters.
The Bassett of the title is none other than Wootton Bassett, the little Wiltshire town that has become famous – and was recently declared “Royal” – for honouring the remains of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, as they return to Britain; the play imagines what happens when a group of unruly senior school students – seven boys and seven girls – are locked in their classroom by an exasperated teacher, while one of the processions is taking place. Furious at being prevented from attending, the fourteen argue and tussle with one another, watch the repatriation on screen, and eventually become victims of the rage of unhappy Leo, a boy with a very large baseball bat, a heart full of unprocessed grief and rage, and a sinister attitude to the Asians in the class, among others.
It’s a ferociously dramatic situation, seized on by the LYT cast with an intensity and focus that is sometimes frightening. In Christie O’Carroll’s beautifully-choreographed production, Aaron Jones gives a powerful performance as troubled Leo, with strong support from Hannah Wade as good-time-girl Kelly, and Tom Palmer as quiet Asian boy Amid. In the end, though, it’s the ensemble work that counts. This is a fine play about the group dynamics of a younger generation with angry, empty hearts; and it’s as a group that they either give in to evil, or begin to fight back.