Published on March 2, 2014 | by Emma Francis

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Theatre preview: Chewing Gum Dreams

still from the film

The plot is dramatic yet comical, and addresses issues such as bullying, domestic violence and sexual abuse among young people. [National Theatre]

Chewing Gum Dreams is a one-woman show that will be taking to the stage at the National Theatre this month.

The play is written and performed by actress Michaela Coel, who draws on her experiences from her teenage years and projects them into the main character ‘Tracey’ and her friends.

“It’s set in 2004 and based around the school that I actually went to in East London, Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate School,” says Coel.

“I guess I’m writing about the craziest, weirdest, most heart-breaking, loveliest characters and they’re all in one massive play. It explores friendships between girls in school, your first relationships with guys, bullying, domestic violence and sexual abuse among young people.”

Dramatic

The plot is dramatic yet comical, and Coel claims that not all the events portrayed actually happened to her.“I like to leave it to people to guess which bits are real and which bits are not,” she says.

“It’s a coming of age play about that period in your life where you’re not innocent anymore; when suddenly, you start to see things as they really are,” she adds.

Coel believes we can all relate to that stage in life; it’s a time when everything is new and there’s a lot to explore.

“You will laugh, then cry, then laugh again,” she says, “just as you did when those situations were your own reality.“

The soundtrack to her play has an old-school garage vibe: “From Craig David to Sweet Female Attitude’s I’ll Bring You Flowers, it’s all of those songs and all of those memories from that So Solid Crew time – the era when everyone was wearing Chinese print leggings and all that,” laughs Coel.

In 2012, Coel won the Alfred Fagon Award for Best Black Playwright of the Year for the play. It’s been shown at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe stage, the National Theatre in Holland, the Yard Theatre and High Tide Festival.

However, Coel explains this may be your final chance to see it on stage: “Right now it’s being turned into a TV series with the same company that did Phoneshop and The IT Crowd. So we’ve got a big reading for Channel 4 at the end of the month, and fingers crossed they turn it into a whole series, but right now it’s a pilot episode.”

The play will be staged at The Shed – a temporary venue at the National Theatre. The site has just 225 seats that circle around the stage, creating an intimate theatre experience. The venue seems suited to the style of Chewing Gum Dreams: “It’s a really personal play – it’s just me. There’s no special effects, I can see you really clearly as the audience and you can see me,” says Coel.

Chewing Gum Dreams is showing at The Shed in the National Theatre from March 17 to April 5, 2014.

UAL students can get discounted tickets of £8 by quoting CGD8 when booking.

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