I don’t know how to start this review.
I don’t know how to start this review because I don’t even know where to begin when telling you about this show. When I told my housemate about it I used a lot of busy hand gestures and loud happy-sighs. I’m not exactly sure how to translate that feeling, a sort of fizzy giddiness, into writing.
It is rare I leave a piece of theatre feeling as genuinely inspired as I felt by Where Do We Belong? at Northern Stage. After watching an hour and a half of parodies of ridiculous rental contracts, and acting out what I can only describe as a big-fat-fuck-Putin-gay-parade to the tune of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’, I felt genuinely inspired. There really is no way of saying ‘I felt inspired’ without sounding all fluffy and grandiose, but there also really is no other word for how it felt. Maybe it sounds better if I just say that after watching it, I wanted to be as good at what I do as they are at theirs.
What came through when I spoke to the cast was just how much of a sense there was that they play was theirs.
The atmosphere in the room was buzzing from the moment it started until way after it finished. Even in the lobby upstairs after the show there were cast members and supportive audience pals hugging and emphatically discussing the show. It was so clear how sincerely the cast genuinely cared about this story. Because it’s about them. ‘Almost all of these stories are taken from little snippets of lines that we’ve talked about.’, said one cast member when I sat down for a chat with some of them.
Although the narratives in Where Do We Belong? do have a universal relatability to them, the script itself has been moulded around its cast. Most of the lines either directly written by them or inspired by their words, and writer Lee Mattinson and director Louie Ingham did an excellent job patching together all of their voices and personalities into a performance, without losing the authenticity of them along the way. What came through when I spoke to the cast was just how much of a sense there was that they play was theirs.
This felt kind of obvious when watching it, because in my experience only young people are ever actually really good at writing young people. The play’s topic - young people, identity and belonging - could sound a bit naff in some circumstances. A lot of things about topics like these end up being too serious, or too cringey, or just wildly off the mark to the point where you wonder if the people making it have ever even met a 19 year old. But this play struck the perfect balance between serious and funny. The uncertainty young people (myself included) feel around where we do belong is unnerving, it’s frustrating and just plain shit to be honest. But there are still a lot of golden moments of humour in the whole thing, and Where Do We Belong? communicated those with absolute authentic brilliance.
My favourite thing about Where Do We Belong? was definitely that it didn’t provide an answer to that question at all.
They drove home the fact that most of them didn’t get a say on brexit, most of them didn’t get a say on where they think they belong, because nobody ever asks young people bloody anything. This show felt like their way of giving themselves the voice they have been been denied. It proved just how well pieces of art serve the makers as much as the audience. They spoke about the show with the same bubbling energy and passion that I felt after seeing it.
My favourite thing about Where Do We Belong? was definitely that it didn’t provide an answer to that question at all. It actually just made it incredibly obvious that there is no one, definitive answer to that question. You leave the production having no more of a clue where you belong than you had when you went into the theatre, but it’s nice knowing other people are asking that question too.