A few home truths that never touch a nerve

JASON BARTLETT
JASON BARTLETT
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IN an age when many inner city teenagers are torn between parental influence and the lure of gang culture, Mad About The Boy could prove to be one of UK theatres more timely pieces.

Real-life father of three Jason Barnett grasps the importance of the touring production as it reaches The Lantern tomorrow.

The actor, who starred as Crime Scene investigator Eddie Olosunje in The Bill for almost three years as well as Little Britain and Extras, plays Dad, opposite Bayo Gbadamosi’s Boy and Simon Darwen as Man.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a state of the nation play, but it does examine some stuff I think as a nation we are wrestling with at the moment,” says Jason. “It has touched a nerve in that sense.

“I did think a while about taking it on because it’s really hard. Actors are notoriously lazy and you see a script like that, how dense it is and what it requires of you, even though the piece isn’t very long, and you think ‘phew, can I do that’, especially if you’ve been doing a lot of television.

“You worry that your brain might not actually manage to learn that much and at that pace. But after a few minutes you think ‘what a great piece of writing’ and really embrace it.”

The story centres on a teenage boy fighting to save his reputation, torn between the influence of his family, his friends and school. Questioning where responsibility lies, the drama examines the growing divide between the generations who have, those who earned, and those who demand, respect.

“We do feel a responsibility with this play. It’s been written so it could be played by any mix of ethnic background, but the director has opted to go with a black kid and dad.

“It’s about more than just a youth in trouble, though. One of the things that attracted me is it’s about dislocation, these three generations who speak the same language but completely don’t; who hear a word in three different ways, see a situation in three different ways and never the ways should meet, or not very often.

“That is something massively universal at the moment. This fracturedness between generations is a real problem and it’s lovely to be involved in something that represents those three ages coming together.

“Although it’s hard going in places, it’s funny in others. There is a glimmer of hope within it as well and it does point to places where we can still meet and talk and reach for the future together.”

Mad comes at a time when many young people crave some kind of acceptance in a complex and often damaged society - and depending on background, that can lead to undesirable associations and action.

Written by Gbolahan Obisesan, and an Edinburgh Fringe First Award winner, Mad has completed an acclaimed London tour. It is produced by Iron Shoes, a company led by Ria Parry and John Hoggarth whose roots are in Yorkshire, and did a run for young people at London’s Unicorn Theatre to good reaction from 14 to 17-year-olds.

“We did a few Q&As with them afterwards and these young men who took up the boy’s story at first and went along with his misogyny and stuff...when the major incident of the play happens it’s amazing how the laughter stopped.

“These young men were taken along with the story and what the conclusion could be if they maintain those sorts of attitudes and easy, casual sexism. Speaking to them afterward they zoned in on that and were quick to realise it was their story and potentially their end they were looking at. That was amazing to be part of.

“It does get to the roots of some of those things. People can take a negative message away from almost anything and I guess they could do from this. But alongside it being a very honest and exposing bit of theatre Gbolahan’s also been careful to mix in this strand of hope. I don’t think I would taken the part if that wasn’t there.

“Young people get maligned very easily in this day and age. I work a lot with young people and have a great deal of belief in them and the vast majority are just desperate to do something positive and constructive. Even when I was young it was easy to fall off briefly. In society it’s important we make that as brief as possible so if it does happen, and with some kids it is inevitable, we make it as easy for them to climb back up.”

While Jason says he was “rubbish at being bad” and adored school to the extent he was picked on, he does have young children, including two boys and a daughter about to start secondary school.

“It’s important for me to do plays like this because this is kind of addressing what’s to come for them.”