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Millennials - The Other Palace

The thing about going to a show long after press night is that I get to see how an audience that isn’t packed to the rafters with friends and family of cast, crew and production team, together with critics and miscellaneous industry people responds to a show. Incidentally, I also get to see how a ‘normal’ audience is treated by the theatre staff – at the performance I attended, nobody smiled enthusiastically or called me ‘sir’ (let alone offered me a complimentary drink, or a voucher to redeem at the bar, lol) but The Other Palace staff were nonetheless perfectly civilised.

Millennials are defined by a newspaper clipping reproduced in the Millennials programme as the generation born between 1981 to 1996: I didn’t know I was one, but it fits the bill. When I graduated from ‘university’ (inverted commas mine – I had such a terrible experience and it’s another story for another time) it was difficult to secure employment, although I had a year’s full-time experience under my belt, thanks to my choice to do a ‘sandwich course’. This meant worked for twelve months – paid (not very much but paid nonetheless) in between my second and final years. But each summer the job market is awash with graduates looking for their big break, and mine didn’t really come for almost eight years, although I had lots of temp work and somehow managed to keep going, even during the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

Anyway, we (I still can’t get around me actually being a millennial, though you’d never see me dress, sing and dance the way the Millennials cast do) have had it pretty bad. Not as bad, of course, as the so-called ‘lost generation’, who were in early adulthood during World War I, and if they survived that, experienced the Great Depression and then their own sons headed off to the frontline during World War II, and may or may not have made it back. Perhaps there is a song cycle about that out there somewhere. This one, however, considers the hardships of millennials, which aren’t, despite the show’s title, entirely the burden of millennials alone, things like self-confidence issues and relationships ending aren’t age or generation-specific.

Indeed, I’m not entirely sure whether this is about millennials – I felt as though this show was really about the generation below mine, to the point where, frankly, it probably should have been called Generation Z. Then there’s the avocados: to get to the studio performance space, the audience is invited to follow a line of avocados, or rather drawings of little avocados stuck to the floor, in the style of following the yellow brick road. The stage is in the shape of an avocado – with (wait for it) a trampoline in the middle, which doesn’t get that much use given its sheer centrality. The songs have a chart music feel to them, and while this doesn’t appeal to me, the show has its repeat visitors, at least a couple of whom knew every lyric to every number.

How do I know that? It’s not because they were singing along very loudly – it’s the layout of the theatre space. In the stalls, the rows of seats have been taken out and replaced with blankets, bean bags, a high bench and a bathtub amongst other things. Large balls are lobbed around the stalls at one point. I didn’t want to sit on the floor, so I plumped for a chair upstairs, where I had a bird’s eye view of the cast, and a level-eye view of the band. Given the bleakness of the millennial/Gen Z experience, the show is remarkably upbeat and celebratory.

There are lines, for instance, about having to work three jobs whilst still living at home with mother – I find it remarkable how starting salaries for the sort of jobs I used to do years ago have barely increased in absolute terms, such that university graduates now, having paid much higher tuition fees than the £1,200 a year I did, are indeed working for less money, at a time when the cost of living is higher than ever. But Millennials doesn’t dwell on this sort of thing for too long, even if some of the lyrics are, well, odd. Towards the end, the reflection, “one millennial lives, while another one dies” is something I can’t get my head around.

Oh, and you can forget character development. So what was the point of it? “Did you have a good time?” asks Luke Bayer, to which the audience responds positively. Why else, indeed, would one go to a show? “On your feet!” he cries a few minutes later at the start of the jaunty finale, before adding, “Oh!” – because the crowd is already standing. That kind of affirmation from an audience is all a show needs. Worth seeing (the show has extended, with a new cast taking it through to 4 September) despite its imperfections – which actually make the show quite charming. Luke Friend’s sound advice, “don’t be a dick”, may not be particularly eloquent but is nonetheless an excellent life philosophy.

Photo credit: Mark Senior

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