Preview: The
Ripple Effect

Deborah Mulhearn finds out how the Olympics is uniting youth theatre around the country with a new play set in a post-apocalyptic world

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The Road, The Hunger Games, even Wall-E – writers and filmmakers are fascinated by the stark practical and moral challenges of a post-apocalyptic society. Now Irish playwright Ursula Rani Sarma has written The Ripple Effect, a play in five segments based loosely on the Olympic truce, the ancient Greek tradition of laying down arms during the Olympic Games.

As part of the 2012 cultural Olympiad, the play will be performed by young people in venues around the country and the Liverpool segment can be seen at the Empire on 31 July.

The play is set in a post-apocalyptic city where the survivors are divided by a Berlin-style wall. Those inside the wall are branded and have to work to quotas, policed by a sinister Council but allowed food and water rations. Those on the other side of the wall are free but have to seek out their food and water.

When supplies start running out the Council finds itself reliant on the knowledge of the outsiders.

“I was interested in the idea of conflict resolution and what happens before and after a conflict,” explains Rani Sarma.

“I’ve found that young people, who are dealing with the complexities and intricacies of contemporary society and culture, are fascinated by what happens when things are stripped back to a basic level – where they have to imagine that all they have to worry about is where to find water and what that does to their morality.”

The Ripple Effect was commissioned by the Ambassador Theatre Group Foundation as part of its creative learning programme, and involved 27 groups of young people in different UK regions and from diverse backgrounds. Because of the different geographical locations, it has a fragmented structure like the society it depicts. It is written in five segments, each lasting between 15 and 20 minutes, and performed at venues in Liverpool, Sunderland, Glasgow, Milton Keynes and London.

“It was quite a challenge to write a piece in this way,” laughs Rani Sarma. “It had to be satisfying as a whole as well as in segments. Each segment needed to be performed independently but also as a cohesive whole. The Liverpool segment alone has around 50 cast members, drawn from local schools, colleges and communities.” Rani Sarma, a poet as well as a playwright, also wrote lyrics, which were set to music by local musician and LIPA student Alan Moore.

She met up with the actors before settling down to write the play. In Liverpool’s case they talked about traumatic events such as the Toxteth Riots and the Hillsborough football tragedy but also more down-to-earth topics. “We talked about their lives and their realities, what they enjoyed, what they feared and hoped for,” she says.

“Some of the young people were from more difficult backgrounds, some were more mature, perhaps already parents, so their realities were very different from others’ even though they may have been the same age.

“What struck me about the Liverpool group was their fondness for the city. They talked passionately about the places they liked to go and this was something strong I could incorporate into the writing. Thinking about it, coming from Ireland, I know all about that fierce pride you have in your home.”

Victoria Carlin, 17, a musical theatre student from Waterloo in north Liverpool, plays Mischa, a Council guard who finds her loyalties divided. “I wanted to improve my acting and it’s been an exciting challenge for me,” she says.

“I think it’s easier to show emotion when you have song and dance. With acting you have to rely solely on yourself, and be aware of your facial expressions all the time. But it’s a great story and it was really interesting working with Ursula on a new piece of writing. Everyone has really enjoyed being part of it.”

The Ripple Effect, 31 July, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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