Review: Papertown by YEP at Camp And Furnace

Imagine a whole world made of paper – it’s like something from the imagination of a childrens’ TV programme. No faint praise that, some of the most imaginative television of the last 40 years has been for children. And that is exactly the set-up for the Young Everyman and Playhouse’s new production of its 2013 season: Papertown is written by and stars young Liverpool talent – and they’ve borrowed some help from LIPA to build the set too, making this a real homegrown affair.

The venue and the set allow for some real leaps of imagination – a whole street decked out in white paper where people have the same meal for dinner and know nothing beyond the confines of their paper houses. It creates a canvas on which all manner of tropes can be painted. It’s a little expressionist, a little modernist, a little futurist.

There’s some Fritz Lang in the town’s unnervingly metronomic observation of worktime, mealtime and bedtime. But there’s also something of the fairytale modernism of Edward Scissorhands or The Truman Show; Kafka and Lynch too – the mannered artifice of it all is apt but overpowering.

We are introduced to a number of townfolk, all slightly grotesque and hyperreal. The Paper Boy, the teacher, the tailor (played with lovely comic moments) and nuclear family, with the Mum looking in need of a pep pill or two. Come daybreak and nighttime the town’s inhabitants run around with their rictus grins, shuffling the audience around from one area to the next. It’s dizzying, bemusing and rather charming and it’s in moments such as these that Papertown is most offbeat and engaging.

Like all putative Edens, this one also has a snake, in the form of our world slowly but surely breaking through and corrupting youngsters to music, paint and, well, rebellion. It’s a neat idea and the young actors portraying the town’s elder inhabitants are convincing in their portrayal of a world falling apart, though it all leads to a kind of ‘kids good; adults bad’ conclusion that feels rather pat after all the build-up.

The scenes that book-end the explanation – such as it is – of what and why Papertown is add little to the whole either; it would have been more interesting to let it stand on its own as an inexplicable and unexplained concept. As it is the detour into teen angst and family melodrama weaken what has gone before.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here, not least some committed performances, oddly powerful set and imaginative core idea. It didn’t all come off, but left a lingering impression behind – and it’s always great to see what YEP is up to, with some undoubted stars of the future among the group. It was, perhaps, a little thin – but it didn’t take the gloss off an intriguing conceit.

Papertown
Camp and Furnace
Until 7 March

Images by Brian Roberts