Germ Free Adolescent by Natalie Mitchell
16 year-old Ashley is in a relationship with Ollie, who wants to take their relationship to the next level; especially given her position as their school's resident expert on sexual health. Natalie Mitchell's play Germ Free Adolescent is a fierce, funny and irreverent OCD love story that asks: what exactly is 'normal' anyway? The play was researched and developed with young people, youth workers and mental-health services. The text is mainly monologues, and it’s theme of teenage relationships and growing up means it’s excellent to use with young people to explore character and monologue skills.
Published by Nick Hern Books: https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/germ-free-adolescent
Where did the inspiration for the characters Ashley and Ollie come from?
Germ Free is probably the most personal play I've written. I've lived with OCD since I was twelve, so whilst Ashley's story is definitely not my own, it is very heavily influenced by my experiences, which hopefully is reflected in how truthful it feels. Ollie is based on a few different people- again, his story is fictionalised, but there are moments in the play that happened in real life.
How did you try to ensure an authentic teenage voice for the characters?
My background is in youth theatre/ education (I established and ran the Young Friends of the Almeida scheme for several years) and used to teach BTEC drama too- so it's always been really important to me to ensure my teenage characters feel authentic and truthful. Every time I write anything with young people in it, I make sure I go out and do as many research workshops as I can. That includes theatre and TV (when I was writing for Ackley Bridge I went and spent an afternoon with some of the cast in Halifax!) With Germ Free, we spent nearly eighteen months working with teenagers across the Medway Towns (where the play's set, and where I grew up). Because the play was so personal, I pretty much already knew the narrative- so these workshops were about looking at the themes of sex, mental health, and what it's like to be a teenager in Medway. They also looked at early drafts of the play and fed back on it, which gave them a huge sense of ownership over it.
What advice would you give young people and YT Directors exploring the characters and the text?
My biggest piece of advice would be not to play the condition, but to play the character. Ashley is so complex, she is so much more than her OCD. I think it's tempting with a character like this to play things up front, but she is actually constantly hiding and suppressing her thoughts. If you met me and didn't know I had OCD, there is almost no way you would guess what's going on in my head at any given time. That's a useful thing to think about for Ashley. The rhythms of the text are key too- incredibly precise to reflect her thought process. with Ollie- he behaves pretty badly throughout the play, but it's important to understand his own insecurities and what drives him. I have such a soft spot for Ollie- be careful not to make him into too much of a baddy.