Once you’ve watched enough coming-of-age dramas, the expectations of the genre are clear. If This Is Normal, Chatback Theatre’s Vaults Festival debut, doesn’t necessarily subvert this formula, but rather gives it a fresh and authentic expansion.
Playwright Lucy Danser has made a conscious effort to re-think stereotypes. Siblings Madani (Isambard Rawbone) and Maryam (Zarima McDermott), are not defined by their Muslim Pakistani background, and best friend Alex’s (Aoife Smyth) growing pains aren’t rooted in her working class status. Danser manages to be both familiar and refreshing, borrowing from the hallmarks of teen dramas without it ever feeling overdone.
Director Helena Jackson’s fun and archaic direction captures the energy of youth. Smyth is captivating as Alex, a character that provokes a lot of laughter and appreciation from the audience. Rawbone plays a sensitive and endearing Madani, and it’s so refreshing to see Maryam as a sharp, strong Muslim woman, played with brawn by McDermott.
Awareness around the topic of sexual consent is growing as there are many misconceptions about what it actually means. If This Is Normal never forces that conversation into the neat and tidy boundaried and binary bucket of right and wrong. The decision to have each character use direct address is an effective persuasive technique, which allows the audience to see three different perspectives along the spectrum. I applaud them for starting to give voice to the different facets of this subject, and for raising the quality of the debate beyond the simple binary.
Sure, the coming of age story is overdone, but most stories are. If This Is Normal deserves your attention, and is running as part of the Vaults Festival until 28th February 2020.