Clayesmore pupil’s dystopian depiction of society without free speech

Clayesmore Theatre recently put on a play written and directed by Lower Sixth Form student, Shannon. Year 11 pupils Charlotte and Ben provided this review of the play:

It isn’t often that, in leaving the theatre, a play successfully encourages you to think so critically and profoundly about the trappings of the modern world in which we live. The play ‘167’, however, does just that. Written and directed by our very own Shannon, the play is about a writer, (played by Ollie H, Y11), who is himself writing a play. Ollie’s troubled author fights writer’s block throughout the piece, creating a series of one-off scenes depicting a dystopian world in which an authoritarian government has cut down on freedom of speech. The exact law states that people are only allowed to speak 167 words a day. The play then examines the difficulties that would inevitably arise if such a constricting law was passed in a modern country.

Shannon’s script wryly attacks the likes of ‘Siri’, ‘Alexa’ and ‘Cortana’. “The public”, the writer says at one point, “have been fooled into willingly letting these devices into their homes” wrongly assuming they are for their benefit, when in fact these ‘digital assistants’ are there to spy on them. This kind of topical, political observation is to be expected when realising that the play is so clearly inspired by the work of German practitioner and political activist, Bertolt Brecht. Many of the techniques used in the play are very Brechtian indeed; the actors multi-role various parts and never leave the stage, the stage itself is also divided with chalk into an area inside the writer’s head and an area outside it. Staging the piece in such a way was a brave choice, but one which certainly paid off.

Throughout the play, there were lots of touching moments and even some funny parts. Two scenes however were particularly poignant. The first was the reaction of a mother (played by Lucy M, Y10) to the news that her teenage daughter (Chloe, Y11) was pregnant. On hearing the news of the unplanned pregnancy the mother quickly decides that her daughter must “visit the clinic to sort it out”. The fact that the daughter has run out of words to fight her case means that she has lost “control over her own body”. The other touching scene took place between actors Rosie (Y11) and Jessica (Y12). Centring around the idea of suicide, the fact that neither character has words left to express themselves means that what plays out is an extremely emotional exercise in how expression and body-language can convey love and reassurance without the need for words. This, we are told, shows human beings’ capacity to adapt.

The play concluded with the actors coming forward to deliver various messages of hope from Malala Yousafzai to Rosa Parks. The most obvious message being that freedom of speech is very important and that we must therefore be vigilant when freely handing over rights to the authorities.

The play was a terrific piece of ensemble theatre and everyone involved both on stage and behind it should be very proud. If you missed ‘167’, Clayesmore Theatre still has many more plays coming up. Don’t miss Macbeth this December! Watch this space for tickets.