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Review: I And You, at Hampstead Theatre

Maisie Williams makes her live theatre debut in fascinating and funny exploration of teenage behaviour

01 November, 2018 — By Howard Loxton

Maisie Williams in I And You. Photo: Manuel Harlan

CAROLINE is a 17-year-old in danger of kidney failure, no longer able to go to school and stuck in her bedroom. When a schoolmate turns up saying her mother sent him upstairs she doesn’t remember him. Anthony claims he’s paired with her on a project about the use of pronouns I and you in the poems of Walt Whitman.

Their 90-minute encounter provides a fascinating and funny exploration of teenage behaviour as the girl conditioned to contact via computer and phone (she even texts her mother downstairs) gradually opens up to real human contact with an affable geek, hooked on Whitman, who has just come from a basketball game where one of the players dropped dead.

A teen comedy with death hanging over it may sound cliché but this is a tale with its own twists: things are not quite as they seem. Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in the US last year (except for Shakespeare) but hardly known here, has a fine ear for teen-talk and Edward Hall’s direction of this two-hander prompts two stunning performances.

Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, here making her live theatre debut, is charismatic as fast-talking Caroline. She is matched by Zach Wyatt as Anthony, his first role as a professional actor. He’s outgoing and gentle, genuinely interested in both Whitman and Caroline, and wins her over. He likes Coltrane, she puts on Jerry Lee Lewis but there is an exchange going on that is almost an infiltration.

The bedroom that designer Michael Pavelka gives Caroline with its huge skylights, psychedelic and photo blow-up walls, fairylights and a clothes rail instead of a wardrobe is packed with teenage detail yet not entirely convincing. That’s not a fault but a virtue – though to say any more would be to spoil the production’s spectacular denouement!

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