Natalie Mitchell’s Germ Free Adolescent is a brutally honest and innovative play discussing the real lives of young people in Medway, and their struggles with the sexual health and education systems. Mitchell's writing, portraying the two characters of Ashley and Ollie, make the stage of The Bunker feel as oppressive and limiting as Medway can be. They are a young couple, having only been together for three months, and are both still in school. They want to progress their relationship, but Ashley struggles with her obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), ultimately leading to their emotional breakdowns.
Photos by Natalie Mitchell
There are hilarious moments in Germ Free Adolescent, mostly seamlessly delivered by Jake Richards, playing Ollie. His hilarity starkly contrasts with insecurities about his leg, which become motifs of male insecurity. Only at the end of the play does he reveal his leg to the audience. He is met with stunned silence – there is nothing wrong with it. The play focuses on the invisible. This is echoed in Mitchell’s writing. We feel as if we know Ashley and Ollie’s entourage of friends, but in fact, it is just their internal thoughts that are so revealing.
These internal conversations become effectively exposed through the staging. There are five props; a large box, a chest of drawers, a lamp, a sofa and some chairs. The front row of the audience’s seats are on the stage. It feels intimate and cosy, but simultaneously isolating. The two characters barely talk directly to each other for the fifty-minute duration.
Francesca Henry brilliantly portrays the damaging thoughts charactersized by OCD, and the many different forms in which it can manifest. The ending, where Ashley rips up her leaflets and sprays them all over the stage, followed by loud pop music, feels genuinely joyful and there is a tangible release of tension.
The Bunker aim to give working class artists a platform that would otherwise be difficult for them to reach, and with this production they have done exactly that. As someone who has lived in Medway for 18 years, I think Mitchell has done a fantastic job of portraying the struggles of being a teenager there. The mental and sexual heath services are crippled. Germ Free Adolescent is a must see for any young adult, from Medway or not.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor