Growing up, everyone is searching for an identity. There is a tremendous pressure to conform, but at the same time young people are on a personal quest to find out who they are.
It can be hard to strike a balance between being yourself and fitting in with your peer group. 14 year old Jesse, the central character in Haringey Shed’s play, Boxed In, was on one such journey.
Boxed In looked at a girl’s struggle to find her place in the world. Jesse has a chipper, sunny disposition, which puts her at odds with the other kids at school. They have negative attitudes, and are moody and stand-offish. They are too cool to express themselves, and are hostile towards anyone who does. In one scene they repeatedly turned away from Jesse, as though she was invisible.
The show was devised in workshopping sessions by Haringey Shed’s 1-4-1-9 youth theatre group, made up of 14-19 year olds. It was then written by a young person, Carla Hewitt. There were inventive spoken word pieces composed by the cast themselves.
Jesse finds a purpose and an outlet in boxing. A piece of rope, cleverly manipulated by the actors, stood in for the ropes around a boxing ring, and there was a thrillingly choreographed fight scene.
Ballet was another striking aspect of the play. This time the rope represented the kind of handrail you see in a dance studio. There was a recognition that ballet is related to boxing, in that both disciplines involve fancy footwork and pain.
Boxed In had all the hallmarks of a modern play. The set was fluid, with objects taking on different meanings, and the scenes ran into each other. The actors played multiple roles and there wasn’t so much a linear storyline but a series of set pieces, sometimes abstractly illustrating the plight of the protagonist. The stage was bathed in different coloured lighting, to indicate changes in mood.
At around 25 minutes in length, Boxed In was short and sweet. It took place at Haringey Shed’s Tottenham home, The Irish Centre, where they have adopted a modestly sized room as their theatre space.
There was a Q&A session immediately afterwards, during which the youngsters were said to have been resourceful and energetic in rehearsals, constantly throwing ideas around and learning ballet moves from YouTube clips. Most of all it was emphasised that an inclusive, collaborative effort, involving hard work and creativity, went into the show.
Haringey Shed’s latest work ended on a poignant note. The performers each stood up in turn, declaring “I am Jesse”. This showed their solidarity, not just with the lead character, but with people everywhere who have a hard time fitting in. It also served to make the point that we all have a Jesse inside of us.