Confronting the teen psyche

By Myron My

Teenagers cop a lot of flack for being insensitive, rude, aggressive and selfish. Teenage Riot by daring Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed brings to the stage eight such characters, but attempts to show that beneath this socially perceived exterior they are also frightened, self-aware, insecure and intelligent.

The performers – Edouard Devriendt, Alice Dooreman, Jorge De Geest, Ian Ghysels, Marthe Hoet, Nanouk Lemmerling, Elies Van Renterghem and Anna Jakoba Ryckewaert – look like they have come straight from the streets of Skins with their bright-coloured high-top sneakers and funky street wear, and they play these people with truth and sincerity.

Teenage Riot

Having the ‘action’ filmed inside a large cube with projections on the surface of the cube displaying what was happening inside really appealed to me, especially with the self-exposure of social media and the conflicting freedom and hazards of the Internet having such an influence on teenagers.

There are heartfelt confessionals on screen interspersed with appealing comedic performances that both highlight the serious and complex issues affecting teenagers, such as the lighthearted but ascerbic look at how to create the perfect eating disorder. It is during these moments that Teenager Riot really drives its message home that modern teenagers have a hell of a lot to deal with.

In terms of the show itself, I honesty could have done without the first twenty minutes of the show. It was too scattered in ideas and too fragmented in narrative to have any effect on me except for wondering what was going on and almost wanting to leave.

However, once it found its way, the remaining 50 minutes of the performance delivered a confronting and engaging exploration of the pressures that teenagers feel and deal with, the relationships they experience, and the revelation of how quickly their ‘friends’ can turn on them. In one instance, one character – who appears to be a leader in his circle – is giving tips on great sex. In the blink of an eye, he is suddenly ridiculed and mocked by everyone for something as petty as his bad skin.

Despite its rocky beginning, Teenage Riot stresses a lesson known by all, and reveals the shame that it’s not always put into practice: as adults who have experienced the transition ourselves, we should never underestimate teenagers in their capabilities and we should allow them to explore and grow (and sometimes make mistakes) without fear of rejection and alienation.

This production was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne between 15-18 October 2013 as part of Melbourne Festival.