Review: an unassuming look at grief and adolescent mental health in Britain

Developed in conjunction with professional psychologist Dr Roger Bretherton Zest Theatre’s Thrive takes an unassuming look at the important issue of grief and adolescent mental health in Britain.

Utilising a more unusual immersive stage set-up, the play allows the audience to both move among and interact with the actors on stage. As a device this allows the audience to feel directly connected to the performers creating a stronger sense of shared experience. This is particularly important for this production as it is primarily designed to speak directly to a younger audience, especially those who may be experiencing a similar situation to what is being presented on stage.

The plot follows a group of three teenagers, Ashleigh, Ollie and Raph who have just faced the loss of a mutual friend James. At the beginning of the play the audience are encouraged to speak and engage with the characters in one of the three distinct spaces that surround a central dais. This is as close to a main stage as the performance allows and acts as the main meeting point between characters. The three spaces that surround are personalised for the performers and there is a fantastic use of props and ladders that add a great physicality to the show.

Each character responds differently to the death of James whom, although you never see, ends up being a very real and developed character in his own right. Ollie seems to represent the more traditional reaction to grief, taking the longest to adjust and let go, whereas Ashleigh loses herself in distractions and tries to be as positive as possible.  Raph uses the situation to re-evaluate his life and try to set targets and goals. As the show progresses you understand more about the characters motivations and their individual relationship to James, it has a wonderfully upbeat message that tells young people that anyone can end up thriving even when facing adversity.

all ages can get something out of ‘Thrive’

The show is well made and treats the subject matter with a thoughtfulness that is clear and consistent throughout. The actors are all equally strong in their individual roles and portray their characters in a thoroughly realistic way, ignoring the tired cliché’s and tropes that often make an appearance when dealing with issues of struggle and grief. There is no attempt to patronise the audience and the story is clear and well-paced.

Being immersive though makes the show more susceptible to problems that relate to that style of theatre. The show is to an extent reliant on the nature and quality of the audience, the performance we witnessed had at the start some predictable sniggering from some of the younger male audience members but this luckily soon abated because of the overall quality of the production.  This particular experience also saw the crowd mingle more with the actors and at points it was difficult to see what was going on through the crowd that had joined them on the dais. There is also a lot of moving around and you have to be careful not to miss anything as the show can at times be fairly frenetic.

However, these are minor points as the show would be greatly diminished without the immersion element. No two performances will ever be the same as a result and it means there is always something going on adding a great sense of excitement. Although audiences of all ages can get something out of ‘Thrive’ it is clearly targeted at teenagers and will resonate strongly and the imaginative way the performance is presented should hopefully get more young people interested and excited about new ways of interpreting theatre.

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