TaY Talks: Royal Exchange Theatre Young Company

As a conclusion to The Royal Exchange’s Truth About Youth scheme, its young company present an evening of their own work, inspired by the things they’re passionate about. These TaY talks are performed in the main theatre, backgrounded by large 3D letters in bright colours spelling out the evening’s title.

A dramatised introduction brings the whole cast together onstage in a brilliant pastiche of stereotypically ‘teenage’ behaviour. The performers text, take selfies and make rude hand gestures at the audience – they also send up teen awkwardness by ‘ruining’ an opening speech and slideshow so realistically that several audience members around me gasped and groaned. (What does that say about their perception of young people?)

There are 27 TaY talks in total, which makes for a longer evening than most standard youth productions, but the immense variety within the talks keeps it interesting. Most are delivered live, but there are also audio pieces, videos and even a written speech (about the difficulty of using public bathrooms for trans gender people) stuck to the inside of the toilet cubicle doors. A myriad of subjects are covered, from sexual harassment and perceptions of disabled people to homelessness, the care system and the importance of voting. When these pressing social issues are placed alongside more light-hearted subjects – such as football or the evils of homework – the variety becomes a little disorienting, and almost detracts from the impact of the more serious messages.

There is a broad range of style and tone within the talks too. Some are humorous and engaging, almost like stand-up sets – others are delivered more assertively, clearly intended to challenge the audience. Some are packed with statistics and rhetorical devices, proving the amount of work that has gone into their composition. Some are in rhyme, and one (possibly my favourite) is even sung at a grand piano by the bar in the interval. Some talks are also delivered less confidently than others, with a few slips here and there. But however they are presented, each one clearly comes from its speaker’s heart with real passion.

Robin Ince is a relaxed, off-the-cuff host and banters well with his two young co-presenters. It’s an enjoyable, thought-provoking evening that both the young company and the Royal Exchange should be proud of. It’s just a shame it was only on for one night!


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