In the midlands town of Stokeley, four teenagers form an endearing and surprisingly talented band, hoping to win the town's annual music competition. The Operation Greenfield kids may look like a bunch of bright-eyed, lanky-haired, baggily-clothed losers at first, obsessed with maths, church, and forest fruits squash, but their heartwarming friendship, sarcastic humour, and catchy tunes quickly won me over.

Bossy and sarcastic guitarist Daniel (Dominic Conway) and chilled-out drummer Molly (Clare Beresford) form the two original band members, calling themselves “Funky Town”. The pair’s energy and humour as they riff off each other and develop wacky ideas for their band is just adorable - especially when Molly decides that every band needs an identity, and theirs should be wearing sunglasses with ridiculous fake eyes printed on them. Sulky, nerdy Alice sidles up to the band, and asks to join them on her granddad's accordion. Later, Violette – the new girl in town and incurably French to boot – impresses them with her virtuoso flute. Reluctantly, band leader Daniel allows these two talented members to join, and from then on, the foursome are inseparable.

Their school year flies by, partly in an absurdly fast montage with some great gags thrown in for good measure (crisp packets go flying; plastic cups appear from nowhere). As they grow older, discovering the ups and downs of romance, career paths and spirituality, so they evolve as a band: first shifting to folksy tunes and calling themselves “Vintage Summer”, then foraying into glam rock complete with Bowie-style paper masks, and finally, more mature and having found their calling, they decide on “Operation Greenfield”.

While this hip band may rock out with funk beats and killer guitar solos, there is nevertheless something strangely innocent about this group of youngsters. Is it because they're all part of a Christian youth group? Is it their constant squash drinking? Is it the way Violette guiltily fingers a packet of cigarettes, as if it were the fateful Fruit itself? Or is this production just laying on the deer-in-the-headlights youthful naiveté extremely thickly? Shamira Turner’s gawky expressions and Eugenie Pastor’s wide-eyed blinking are hard to miss. Innocence and experience in the biblical sense are at play from the outset: Operation Greenfield opens with a hasty, noisy enactment of the Annunciation. At first, it’s strangely out of place – but the teenagers' explorations of faith and friendship as they grow older make the significance of this unusual scene a little more clear. They are rapidly approaching adulthood and the end of school, and seem to identify with Holy Mary's sudden fear and awe when thrust into the unknown.

It is therefore less surprising that you’d expect when Violette presents her grand idea for Operation Greenfield’s song entry for the talent competition: to stage a rock-opera enactment of the Annunciation. In this grand finale, each band member finds their voice: Alice manages to sing a leading line despite her awkwardness; Daniel masters his guitar solo; Violette finds spiritual satisfaction in her pageant-style portrayal of Mary; and Molly - usually hiding behind her drum kit - gets the spotlight for a while. The music, of course, is great - though I have to admit that the rock opera wasn't as impressive as I'd hoped from their earlier songs.

The play could have ended right there, in a triumphant burst of talent-competition-winning song, and with the somewhat ramshackle plot tied up as tidily as could be expected - so I was a little puzzled by the addition of a final musical number. At this point, Daniel addresses the audience and tells us that it’s not about winning the competition, but about “revelation”, and Operation Greenfield takes a more serious turn into some spiritual performance art. 

It’s a daring idea, to say the least, to take a group of teenagers’ relationship to the New Testament seriously in such a lighthearted and deceptively ironic play. The result is a little messy, occasionally off the wall, but earnest and extremely good fun nonetheless: and the friendship between these four are a joy to watch throughout.

Operation Greenfield, at Battersea Arts CentreKate Mason reviews Operation Greenfield at the Battersea Arts Centre.4