Review: Alice and Peter Grow Up

by Jane

Every now and then I have a moment where I realise that maybe – just maybe – I’m actually a Grown Up.  They’re few and far between; not because I see myself as a child, but because to be an adult seems all at once huge and scary and unobtainable and certainly doesn’t seem like something I will be at any time soon.  More often, I suppose, I feel like I am playing at being a Grown Up.  I’ve managed to convince people that I can have proper jobs and proper responsibilities, and it’s all a farce which is great fun.

At the entrance of Format, we are passed a questionnaire: how grown up are you? Downstairs in the slightly awkward basement, we are introduced to Subject One and Subject Two, working their way through a modulated course, giving their audience the skills they need to grow up.   Alice (Aston Malcom) has a Grown Up score of 9 out of 50.  Peter (Sebastian Freeman) has a Grown Up score of 12. The apathetic Alice and the cocky Peter must make their way through each of the sections, learning, among other things, how to have a conversation, how to date, how to be married, and how to act at work.  It’s trial by procedure rather than trial by error.

This devised theatre piece by a young team under the direction of Nescha Jelk hilariously and charmingly winds its way through the bed of uncertainty that is these years of trying (or ignoring the fate) of being an adult.  From the jokes that hit too close to the bone, to the sublimely ridiculous, Malcom and Freeman embrace the essence of struggling with your burgeoning adulthood, even if it is in a course and not in the real world.

The production suffers somewhat from lack of a definition of what “adulthood” actually is.  The questionnaire for the Grown Up scale starts with a question about stocks and bonds, continuing with questions about education, cultural events, and alcohol consumption.  This being your first contact to the show gives you an idea of what they mean by adulthood, but then some things jar.  The course covers everything from all the sexual positions you can undertake on a one-night-stand, to how to handle a marriage that is breaking up, but these are of themselves very different perceptions of what it means to grow old.  At one moment, where Alice is instructed, after a night of unprotected sex, to tell Peter she is pregnant and has an STD – as being able to communicate these facts is the “grown up” thing to do – I was taken aback: surely the grown up thing is to not have unprotected sex, or to take the morning after pill?

The stop-start modulated nature of the production can become a bit awkward, laughs becoming stifled or the actors and audience having to rebuild the humour in each section.  Alice and Peter seem to be earnestly, although standoffishly, involved in going along for the actual leanings of the course for slightly too long: when they start to subvert the action of the voiced-over instructions, both rejecting the notion that they must “grow up” and seizing the notion that being solemnly instructed to grow up is not how anyone does it, the show is at its most delightful.  Alice, in particular, gratifyingly refuses to take any shit from Peter: it isn’t until it is established towards the final moments that the subjects are being paid for their appearance that these strains of obedience make more sense.

For me, some of the most genuine moments of the production were some of those “learning” moments I have actually had to experience: it’s incredibly hard to figure out to sit at a desk without being taught, you see.  Although Alice and Peter are, in many ways, rather unlikable characters, the seemingly effortless affability of Malcom and Freeman finds a bond with the audience built on the strains of familiarity in our own not-quite-grown-up selves.  Through this, Alice and Peter Grow Up is a charming piece of theatre, filled with laughs of the familiar and the ideal that maybe Mr Darling was wrong, people don’t have to grow up.

And in case you were wondering: I scored 18/50 on the Grown Up scale. Take from that what you will.

Milk Theatre Collective and Festival of Unpopular Culture, in association with ActNow Theatre, present Alice and Peter Grow Up.  Directed by Nescha Jelk, dramaturg/writer Sarah Dunn, sound designer Rob Wright, set and costume designer Myf Cadwallader, producer/performer Michael Kedem, and stage manager/performer Stephen Moylan. With performer/devisors Ashton Malcom and Sebastian Freeman.  In the Format Basement until 15 October.  More information and tickets.

Disclaimer: I am friends with many of the people involved in this production, and studied how to be an office-working grown-up with Sarah Dunn.