Caroline is almost a normal teenage girl. She spends all her time on her phone. Her room is “one big weird collage” of posters. She loves Elvis movies and Jerry Lee Lewis. She’s also taking a long break from school, thanks to a potentially lethal illness.
I and You at the Hampstead Theatre tells the story of Caroline (Maisie Williams) and Anthony (Zach Wyatt), a high-achieving boy from her school who turns up at her bedroom door with a copy of Leaves of Grass, insisting she help him with their school project on Walt Whitman. Over the course of the 90-minute play, the two characters get to know each other while bonding over their newfound love for the work. Both find it soothes their anxieties about death – Caroline’s fear of her illness, Anthony’s horror at seeing a classmate die on the basketball court. Caroline eventually drops her defensive quips to talk honestly about herself, and Anthony shows her that he’s not the picture-perfect person he seems.
Written by the in-demand American playwright Lauren Gunderson, I and You feels distinctly Young Adult: boy meets girl with serious illness is a common plot in YA fiction and film, as are school projects on literature with themes the protagonists can relate to. At one point, this tips over into the juvenile: the final twist could perhaps blow a teenager’s mind, but to me felt reminiscent of much-parodied romantic fiction written by children on Tumblr.
Williams, whom audiences will know from Game of Thrones (I also loved her in Carol Morley’s strange film The Falling), is excellent. This is her stage debut, though you wouldn’t know it. She is infectiously charismatic – moving effortlessly from frustration to bashfulness to fiery enthusiasm. It’s a performance worth seeing.
This article appears in the 31 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Great War’s long shadow