Kate Tempest adds another string to her already packed bow with her first play, Wasted, which follows a day and night in the life of three twenty-somethings as they commemorate the anniversary of the death of a friend. Ted, Danny and Charlotte are recognisable mid-twenties characters – an office worker in a job that doesn’t interest him, a guy who’s still trying to make it big with his band and a teacher who wishes she could leave the responsibilities of her adulthood to again feel the freedom that her students have.
Kate Tempest, for those that don’t know is a young performance poet from London who first came to my attention last year during the London riots when a video of her poem Cannibal Kids was picked up by Twitter and The Guardian amongst others, as we all tried to understand or articulate what might have been going on to drive our young people to cause such destruction. Tempest is no stranger to Bristol, having appeared previously at Hammer & Tongue poetry slams down at the Grain Barge and on tour supporting Billy Bragg with her band Sound of Rum. Wasted, though, is her first foray into theatre and for writing words to be spoken by someone else.
Tempest’s style and pace are evident from the start as the actors come on stage with microphones in hand and rattle through their opening lines directly at the audience, picking up in the middle of each others sentences and speaking in unison in a style more akin to a hip hop gig than to a theatrical monologue. It demands attention from the audience and the cast to keep up with the relentless pace but it’s instantly engaging. The performance then settles into a more play-like structure as the story of these characters unfolds but this device is returned throughout, with each character having their own monologue where they address their dead friend and say the things that they want to but are unable to say to each other. It’s very effective and provides context to the characters’ interactions but also wider commentary on the “quarter-life crisis” and the highs and lows of being a twenty-something in our times.
As the group go out on the town like they used to in their younger days (and get wasted), it’s clear that they are only really able to communicate with each other in the way they’d like to with chemical help. In that sense there’s a tragic undertone but there’s also a fair amount of comedy in the piece and all three accents trod that difficult line brilliantly. Equally, the relentless pace, the colloquialisms of London’s urban youth and the need to allow the poetry of Tempest’s words come through must have been an unusual challenge for the cast and could easily have been awkward but was totally natural and believable.
The story is a good one and probably fairly universally identifiable but, as you might expect, it is the writing that shines here. This is a really exceptional piece of writing. Kate Tempest’s mastery of rhyme and rhythm gave it the feel of being almost Shakespearian but of course Tempest, being a twenty-something herself, brings to surface the unspoken worries of a generation in a language that is totally contemporary. This is a play that deserves to go beyond the theatres to clubs and bars to find the people to whom it is most relevant.