City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Katie's Birthday Party, Imaginate Festival, Festival Studio Theatre, Review

By Justine Blundell - Posted on 02 June 2016

KATIE'S_BIRTHDAY_PARTY_credit_Young_at_Art 2.jpg
Show Details
Young At Art
Mary-Frances Doherty (Katie)
Running time: 

Belfast-based Young At Art invites youngsters to join in with the fun and games at Katie’s Birthday Party.

It’s Katie’s 12th birthday. There’s a banner and balloons and a trestle table piled with pressies and party food, and Katie’s dancing around to Little Mix’s Black Magic as the audience/party guests arrive. A group of school kids, close to Katie in age, are ushered into a semi-circle of seats around the dance floor. The grown-ups sit behind, quite literally taking a back seat in this short and sweet production.

Looking young and vulnerable, Mary-Frances Doherty as Katie is all dolled up in her best sparkly party frock. She takes a microphone, thanks everyone for coming, and passes her birthday cards round for a look-over before taking selfies with a few of her front-row guests.

It’s during a game of Truth or Dare - entered into enthusiastically by her younger guests – that we discover more about Katie. In particular, she tells us about her best friend Tracey and why she said she couldn’t make it to her party. As the game unfolds we begin to understand that Katie, recently transitioned from Primary to Secondary School and in that awkward limbo between childhood and adulthood, is struggling with some private humiliations and crushing anxieties. Katie’s growing pains are emotional, and as the anchors of her early years are yanked out from beneath her she is forced to face the anguish of an unsteady present and an uncertain future.

It’s a performance that is unashamedly aimed at the pre/early-teens who recognise and appreciate Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off when it appears on the dance list, and who all (bar one or two) can’t wait to add their contribution to that funky internet meme, the Harlem Shake. But while the school crowd are keen to join in, show off and have some laughs, they appear to avoid looking squarely at the more uncomfortable bits, making quiet jokes to each other and casting their eyes down at their own shuffling feet when Katie’s going gets tough. Perhaps the subject matter hits a nerve and perhaps that is a good thing.

It is frustrating that the production barely scratches the surface of Katie’s dark matters. Extending the performance beyond what feels like a somewhat skimpy half-hour would provide the space for some much-needed further exploration. After all, the vertigo of the limbo years, only hinted at here, is real and frightening and theatre is a great place to open up that conversation. There’s a lot of promise here, with a sound performance by Mary-Frances Doherty within a great format. But sadly, an opportunity has been missed.

Runs 1st – 5th June 2016