Queen Elizabeth High School, Carmarthen, 24th October 2014
Cwmni Theatr Arad Goch
Written by Bethan Gwanas
Directed by Angharad Lee
Cast – Nia Ann, Lowri Sion, Endaf Eynon Davies and Dion Lloyd Jones
In its 25th year of producing and touring theatre work for young people in Welsh and English, Aberystwyth-based Cwmni Theatr Arad Goch is tackling a hot issue in its production Sxto – in English Sexting. The show first toured schools during 2011-2013; for the 2014 tour writer Bethan Gwanas has revised the script to incorporate points raised by teenagers who saw the original production.
The show is aimed at young people aged from 13 upwards, showing the possible consequences of ‘innocently’ sending a sexually explicit image on a mobile phone. No doubt many of them, like the protagonist 14 year-old Lowri, imagine they would never do such a thing. When she is asked by by her boyfriend Meic to send him a picture she refuses, horrified.
‘Don’t you love me?’ he persists. And ‘Prove it then.’
He promises, of course, that he will never show it to anyone else. And she capitulates. But soon the two fall out, Meic sells his phone to his friend Gav, who finds the picture and shows it to Lowri’s friend Jen. She posts it on Facebook and so everything begins to unravel, as Lowri is variously portrayed as tart and victim by anonymous cyber-bullies. The play shows the possible consequences of impetuous actions by teenagers who want to fit in with their peers. It is didactic, but does not preach, simply shows. It is clear, hard-hitting, explicit but never crude, treading a fine line in an uncompromising and sure-footed way. The work-shopping has ensured that the language used embraces up-to-date terminology, helping it to speak directly to those who need to get the message.
Visually and aurally it is strong – school lockers thump on their sides to form a railway bridge, mobile phones are pointed like weapons. There is a rhythmic menacing soundtrack. The director has steered clear of sexualising the drama itself, an intelligent approach. Hopefully this enables those watching to concentrate on thinking about the issues raised, to as to avoid being drawn themselves into the downward spiral described – the abuse and degradation of the protagonist Lowri, taunted by boys and betrayed by her girlfriend. The bleakness of the action is mercifully leavened by touches of humour and the open ending allows the possibility that the young people may get help.
The teenagers in the audience when I saw the play were clearly engaged by the performance. In a short Q&A workshop session afterwards discussion focussed on a scene which demonstrates confusion between virtual reality and real life. Is Gav conflating Lowri, the girl he knows in real life, with the anonymous girls he watches on the internet, who he sees as readily available to satisfy his every fantasy? They play games with him and now it seems to him that Lowri is doing the same. Of course, even when theatre is taken to teenagers in schools, there is limited time for this kind of discussion and there was an inevitable sense of rush in the mini-workshop. But it is good to see the cast handing out cards with addresses of websites which offer young people help and support.
Sexting deals in a straightforward and unembarrassed way with an issue which needs to be openly discussed. Teenagers need to know that, in the digital age, they have to remember that any image they send by mobile phone is potentially public, there is nothing they can do to prevent it being passed on to whomsoever and it can never be retrieved. It is a scary issue, all the more reason to be glad that it’s one Arad Goch are continuing to explore and take out in dramatic form to teenagers across Wales.