It feels only fitting that in returning with Protest, Hannah Lavery continues presenting a significantly resounding voice for younger generations – when all too many of them (and their productions) tend to become lost amidst the singular, louder, voices of discouragement.
Initially premiering at the Imaginate Festival at The Studio, Capital Theatres, in Edinburgh, Protest run at the Traverse Theatre marks a welcome return of quality and determination – most notable is the continued relevance of the utilisation playground-politics to reflect just how little we’ve traversed from the disputes and disagreements of our youth. Protest undertakes a colossal task – a trifecta of three enormously challenging issues facing younger generations – all three elements of life we should long stamp out and solve: racism, gender restrictions, and the climate crisis.
A three-hander with little struggle in locating its voice and communicating it to the crowds, Lavery’s Protest fine-tunes itself ahead of a national tour. With brilliantly tightened direction from Natalie Ibu, and a balance of visual, performance, and audio (novasound) storytelling, Protest follows the initially separate strands of three young school girls who find a crossroads in their growing frustrations with avenues of life and the lack of agency they have to do something about it: to protest.
Also returning with Lavery and Ibu is Kirsty McLaren’s performance as ‘best sprinter in the school’, Alice. Bringing their energetic and whirling energy, McLaren’s continuing presence has fire and grit in their determination enabling Alice to hook the audience from the off. It’s also the fastest route to an understanding in Lavery’s writing – as Alice finds their talents ignored in favour of her male classmates: boys who need a bit more praise, a bit more time and patience, at the expense of others in the classroom who are just viewed as dramatic or problematic.
In a resoundingly intimate performance which captures the realisation of breaking innocence powerfully – Jade begins to see the cracks in the world, as the ugly face of racially-sparked aggression violates their everyday world. Understated, raw, and performed with the combined curiosity and confusion of a growing child, Harmony Rose-Bremner strikes a perfect performance which is as enthrallingly honest as it can be humorous and inventive. Threading into the mixture of their co-stars, Amy Murphy’s Chloe has a less immediate connection but builds more on Laverly’s clever use of small worlds and growing connections.
Capturing the definition of an ‘old soul’ in portraying a young woman and does so with marked sincerity and earnestness. There’s no question to this character’s relatability and stitches the more urgent nature of climate awareness on a smaller, though no less serious scale. With nuance, and gentle movements encouraged by Nadia Iftkha’s effective movement direction and Ali Hunter’s stimulating lighting.
Part of this movement direction aids in where the previous productions’ Imaginate showcase fell somewhat, as this new touring show tightens the pacing without sacrificing the excitement the three performers bring and encourages a wider age range of appeal. The playground-inspired set from Amy Jane Cook offers an imbued sense of ‘play’ and choreography which gradually becomes closer to an art installation as Lavery’s Protest ventures outside of the stagnation and brings in more movement, colour, and visual art.
And though Protest still retains a sense of being grounded, not offering a be-all and end-all answer to our issues, there is still a touch of detachment in some of the characterisation which isn’t fully pushing the more selfish or absent-minded nature of playground politics. But what Protest does manage is throw back the ridiculous ideas of younger generations ‘not getting it’, or being too young to grasp how the world works.
Streamlined, Protest hits the mark with a more resounding and impactful clarity – ready for new viewers and voices to find a presence of themselves within the production. The simplicity, or rather localisation, of the story aids tremendously in attaching to audiences – Protest could be any school in Scotland, the UK, France, Germany, or the world. It doesn’t point its infectious charm or wry observation at something specific but to our shared experiences. We remain in a situation where some of the basic courtesies and concepts remain unlearned, or worse still, ignored. Protest offers a distinctly hopeful sense of promise and power in the voices of young women, not in the future, but right now.