Joanna Neary: Youth Club
A period piece with confusing threads
This article is from 2011.
Have we finally wrung out the vestiges of 80s nostalgia? Joanna Neary’s latest show, Youth Club, suggests that this may be the case. Neary is a likeable comic actress, a former Perrier Best Newcomer nominee, and a familiar TV face to viewers of Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet or Ideal where she starred alongside alongside Johnny Vegas. But her solo, character-based tale of awkward Cornwall teenagers in 1987 lacks dramatic and comical punch.
Largely centred round a youth club disco, it focuses on a child-like, contradictory 15-year-old protagonist called Diana, who is variously described as a ‘Victorian prude’, then twice thereafter witnessed singing about anal sex. Neary’s caricatures of Diana and her friends, however, are unconvincing and confusing. Her narrative thread is similarly hard to follow and, in truth, we never develop enough empathy toward Tamsin, or Gavin, or even Diana, to care.
There’s no doubting its historical location, though: this is 1987 writ in fluorescent lights, an era when kids collected novelty erasers, skewed conventional spellings of their names in favour of the letters ‘i’ and ‘k’, used wet-look gel, wore bat-wing jumpers and learned the words to songs like The Firm’s ‘Star Trekkin’’ via the pages of Smash Hits.
Yet these cultural embellishments felt incidental to the saga – just another excuse to play Level 42 and exploit our easy predilection for basking in nostalgic reverie. Neary did make one nice observation toward the end: that The B52’s ‘Rock Lobster’ implied that there was ‘an alternative’ out there – something other than Garfield, Starship and Cornwall – but it was under-explored, and gone in a flash. Despite Youth Club’s resounding 80s theme, Neary concluded her lengthy account with a wholly incongruous cocktail-jazz epic that spanned puerile subversions of nursery rhymes, and nods to ‘hepcats’ on the school bus. It wasn’t funny, but it was absurd.
The Stand V, 558 7272, until 28 Aug, 3.50pm, £9 (£8).