S’no flake: Bryony Davis as Leah in All We Ever Wanted Was Everything. Photo: Sarah Beth
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything | Thursday 19 July | The Public | Part of Reading Fringe Festival
Rating | ****
Hull-based Middle Child describe themselves as ‘gig theatre for the gig economy’. That means they produce innovative live band-based shows telling stories from the disaffected, snowflake generation.
Performed in three gigs, ‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’ follows the lives of Leah (Bryony Davis) and Chris (James Stanyer), two Hull kids raised to believe they can be anything, across three decades. From their birth in 1987 we head to New Labour euphoria in ‘97, stopping off at ‘Broken Britain’ in 2007, and hurtle head first into 2017’s Brexit Britain, with a singing asteroid set to destroy the world in tow.
Entering the Public’s upstairs room, you’d be forgiving for thinking you were attending a rock gig, not theatre. While the cast take the stage in a band formation, the audience stand under club lighting, where smoke machines abound and the bar stays open throughout. As the piece moves on, action weaves through the crowd, performers speak lines pointedly to individuals, sit atop the bar and occasionally co-opt audience members for silent bit parts.
It’s clear that our Reading audience starts uncomfortable with this hybrid concept, opting to stand close to walls or against the bar (yes, I’m guilty of this too). But we are soon won over by charismatic, kohl’d up front man Marc Graham, whose boundless energy and rock star swagger lifts his MC role to a cheeky, transfixing presence and gets us all on side quickly.
Each act kicks off with impressive original live music from James Frewer, taking in electro, Britpop and indie as the years turn. 1997’s set piece includes a Gallagher snarl and a clever ‘things can only get better’ refrain. 2007’s Kooks-style revival is all glorious ‘we can be anything’ exuberance.
Writing from Luke Barnes is witty and thought provoking. The script explores youth, disappointment, parenthood, privilege and politics in one creative sweep. The poetic spoken word segments can be slightly too earnest at times, and there’s the odd borderline cheesy moment. But as the characters hit their 20s in act two, the dialogue hits its stride. Here, the weight of expectation Chris and Leah feel rings clear, as they struggle to find their adult selves and flounder in the isolation of parental pressure, binge drinking and lad culture. And that struck a definite chord with this ‘80s kid, I can tell you.
As each decade rolls on, news reports crackle overhead. The Berlin Wall falls, the 9/11 attacks take place and Britain votes to leave the European Union. At their original Hull Year of Culture opening show these were reportedly lit up across a bank of TV screens demanding your attention, but in the smaller Public, we make do with audio only. It loses some of the atmosphere but the intended doom-mongering looms large regardless as that asteroid shuttles to Earth for an explosive finish.
‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’ is thrilling, chaotic, heartwarming and occasionally overwhelming. Much like the lives we see play out before us. It’s an intoxicating ride.
Reading Fringe Festival continues until Sunday 23 July. Discover more events in our guide to the Fringe.
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 4-27 August.
Hello! I'm Claire, the founding editor of Explore Reading. I'm a Reading native and former digital director of Time Out Shanghai. I founded Explore Reading so no one can say, ‘there’s nothing to do in Reading’, again. When not editing Explore Reading, I'm probably drinking a Manhattan.