What sort of trouble would you have got into as a teenager if you were equipped with today’s technology? It’s a frightening thought. What with the teenage brain’s late-developing understanding of consequences and a world outside their own immediate gratification, it’s no wonder sexting is a thing. Insecure teenagers wanting to impress their crushes, an over-inflated sense of self and peer pressure brews a potentially deadly, life ruining combination in the presence of a smart phone. Maya Sondhi’s Sket is a snapshot of the perils of urban, working class teenaged life and the consequences of poverty, boredom and hormones constantly plugged into the Internet. A cast of seven depict a pretty spot-on representation of young people’s emotional lives, but Sondhi’s play seems to take a dim view of troubled teens and the adults that work with them. Painting her young people as a bunch of sex-crazed, badly behaved tearaways and their teacher as useless and boundary crossing is not only hugely generalised but a potentially harmful stereotype.
JC (Tom Ratcliffe) has a cousin who runs a porn site, and JC helps him out by manipulating his female school mates into sending him explicit photos and videos. Emily (Laura Gardiner), Daisy (Olivia Elsden) and Tamika (Tessie Orange-Turner) are friends who are just as bad as each other, but quick to judge and pair up against the odd one out of the three. JC’s backed up by the charmingly insecure Adam (Dave Parry) and Leo (Romario Simpson), who know what JC is doing is wrong, but aren’t confident enough to stand up for themselves. The six young actors are believable London estate kids most of the time, and have some nice moments of conflict and comraderie. There are a few accent slips into middle class Home Counties, but these are rare. It’s typical teenaged tribal warfare, but when the girls discover their photos and videos are online, they aren’t strong enough to maintain a tough facade. Their teacher Miss (Anna O’Grady) tries to get information out of them, but manages to be completely inappropriate most of the time and makes no mention of referring the girls to a higher power what with the information she does glean from them – a huge misrepresentation of teachers and support workers, who proactively combat the consequences of sexting.
A horrific end reinforces how brutal children can be towards each other, but it is needlessly bleak. A lack of resolution indicates that these kids will never escape the boys vs. girls revenge cycle and grow up into functional adults. Considering most kids are decent human beings trying to get through life regardless of their backgrounds, Sket paints them at their worst. A few moments of kinship and tears aren’t enough amongst the horror. Whilst sexting and revenge porn is certainly a problem, Sondhi doesn’t show any of the work that is done to fight it by schools, police and social services. The distrustful relationship between teenagers and their teachers is also hugely inaccurate. Individual scenes are well-written and the characters are otherwise believable, but the overall message the script communicates is frankly wrong.
That said, it’s a good production otherwise. Director Prav MJ keeps her staging simple in order to focus on the characters and their conflicts. Simple projections indicate location, and school uniforms reinforce the characters’ youth. There’s no set, but it isn’t particularly needed in a small venue. The script could certainly do with a wider range of material in order to diffuse the negativity and to add is some degree of resolution, but it wouldn’t take much to turn around the play’s attitude and make a really great story.
Sket runs until 14 May.
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