2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the Young Vic theatre, a landmark that in human terms might provoke a healthy dose of nostalgia, reflection on the last four decades and a desire to return to 39 as quickly as possible. It seems no coincidence then that the venue has decided to tackle the process of ageing in a unique co-production with Fevered Sleep, On Ageing.
Fevered Sleep is famous for its magical shows for children, performed by adults and purely aimed at entertaining youngsters. However, this time the company has taken on the task of producing a show for adults, performed by seven illuminating children. From the mouths of babes come the words of people in their 20s, 50s or even 80s as they recount to the audience what it feels like to get older.
On Ageing starts as a panel discussion, with the feel of a radio-play. Taking their seats on stage behind microphones and jugs of water, the fresh-faced kids talk of hip replacements, memory loss and retirement. Rather than the usual excited, childish stream of consciousness you would expect from child performers, their phrasing becomes that of an older generation as they thoughtfully answer questions. When a seven-year-old is, inevitably, prompted to remember his lines, the incident is transformed into the illusion that he has in fact lost his stream of thought as an 80-year-old man.
Interspersed between the dialogue, the cast members run on stage with lamps, books, toys, games, cameras and clocks as they use the metaphor of a over-crowded loft to represent just what we accumulate through life. The objects not only act as clutter but also provoke memories and the feeling of a life passing before our eyes on stage: after learner plates comes a graduation cap, then a wedding dress then a baby carriage.
First entering on stage as children – ranging from a tall and handsome 13-year-old to Theo, a mischievous and miniature-seeming seven-year-old – on opening their mouths the years fly past as they are transformed by the verbatim words they deliver. The very first shadows of a moustache on a smiley young boy or the eclectic purple tights of a bespectacled 11-year-old transform the performers from fresh faced youngster to vodka-swigging middle-aged man or crazy, eccentric aunt.
The subject of ageing is one that provokes familiar clichés – you are only as old as you feel, you only remember how lined your face has become when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror – but echoed in childish high voices, the sentiments resonate more strongly and become frighteningly poignant. Hearing a young girl with pigtails talk about wanting to be 26 forever is both funny and touching, and listening to a seven-year-old talk about being left alone while friends and family inevitably pass away is heartbreakingly sad but, as in all good theatre, an important story to hear.