This Beautiful Future review – exquisite portrait of young love in the heat of war

The Yard, London
A French teenager and a German boy soldier are unselfconscious lovers in this idiosyncratic fable set in occupied France

It’s 1944, and teenagers Elodie and Otto are on opposite sides of the war. Elodie is a 17-year-old in occupied France who was friends with the betrayed, executed son of a local Jewish family. Otto is a 15-year-old in a German uniform with blood on his hands and an admiration for “Mr Hitler” with his vision of a future “where everything’s clean”. You might imagine they would hate each other. But Elodie and Otto are lovers and, in their farmhouse love-nest, they have pillow fights, opening themselves up to each other. They are as defenceless as blinking chicks newly hatched in a brutal world.

Rita Kalnejais’s foxy First Love Is the Revolution at Soho theatre in London was one of 2015’s most distinctive plays, and this uncommon 70-minute show is similarly idiosyncratic, yet direct and truthful. The play and the production – exquisitely textured by the Yard’s artistic director, Jay Miller – have an immediacy and openness that matches the lovers. Moments that might come across as sentimental are stupidly beautiful and teary.

Alwyne Taylor, Bradley Hall, Paul Haley and Hannah Milward in This Beautiful Future.
Alwyne Taylor, Bradley Hall, Paul Haley and Hannah Millward in This Beautiful Future. Photograph: Richard Lakos

Cécile Trémolières’s design, which conjures an idyllic rural French scene and an LED screen, hovers on the cusp of past, present and future, skipping lightly between the three. There are deliberate anachronisms. Otto talks about going to a “Hitler gig” by his dad and being bowled over.

Hannah Millward’s flighty Elodie and Bradley Hall’s serious Otto are living during the second world war, but they could be teenagers from a century earlier, or now. Love is permanently transformative and transcendental. This pair have the self-absorbed unselfconsciousness and diffidence of all teenagers, alive and confident in their own beautiful futures, even as the world tumbles around their ears and they are bleached from history.

The dislocating fluidity of time is increased by two older performers, Alwyne Taylor and Paul Haley, who spend much of the evening in karaoke booths on either side of the stage, singing snatches from Adele’s Hello and Sammy Fain’s I Can Dream, Can’t I? Combined with our knowledge of how the war ended, it creates a growing sense of loss in an evening that is as tender as a burn.

As history marches forward, randomly knocking over anyone in its way, Taylor and Haley start to claim the stage, which becomes misted with regret as they voice their hopes, many of them prosaic, such as wanting to visit the gym more. It reminds us that we all become ghosts of our younger selves who once fizzed with the excitement of being alive and in love. We need to hang on to that feeling: the future may depend on it.

Contributor

Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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