Flee, rebel is the latest production in a four-year project that has seen adaptations of award-winning novels by Malorie Blackman (Noughts and crosses), Alex Wheatle (Crongton Knights) and Zana Fraillon (The Leg Sparrow). “The goal was to inspire expansion and diversification of the range of work being created and programmed for young adults and children of high school age,” said Esther Richardson, artistic director of Pilot Theater (one of five companies that make up of the consortium of producers: the others are Mercury Theatre, Colchester; Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; Derby Theater and York Theater Royal). These works offer “stories that are fresher and can feel more directly relevant and recognizable to their lives than existing set and ‘classic’ texts”.
Fifteen-year-old Amber (Jessica Kaur) lives with her non-English speaking parents on what she describes as “one of the roughest and largest estates in the country”. Her violent, alcoholic father is determined not to disgrace the family (Amber’s older sister has already been forced into an arranged marriage). His network of friends is quick to let him know if she’s up for an after-school visit to McDonald’s with classmate Tara and budding love interest David (impressive professional debut by Kiran Raywilliams). School offers hope: encouraging Amber’s talents as a runner; inspire her, through history lessons on revolution, to revolt.
Manjeet Mann, in collaboration with director Tessa Walker, self-adapted her critically acclaimed 2020 verse novel. The result comes across less as a dramatization of Amber’s story than as a demonstration of issues affecting her. These include: bullying; hardship; domestic violence; friendship and relationships; revolution and rebellion; women and sports (listed in the “Resources” section of the text of the piece). Some lively theatrical moments enliven an overlong production (for example, a race “uphill” on Debbie Duru’s curved set) and a five-piece ensemble ably support Kaur, who is intense and involved in the central role.
Flee, rebel is at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, March 21-25