Tag Archive | "National Youth Theatre"

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Feature: Straight from the director’s mouth – 27 mins with Gbolahan Obisasan

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Rachel St John

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s cleverly titled play We are proud to present a presentation about the Herero of Namibia, formerly known as South-West Africa, from the German SudWest Afrika, between the years 1884 and 1915, took the US by storm, becoming part of a growing trend of exploring Africa, its past and its culture. The show has now been brought to London’s Bush Theatre, where actor turned writer/director Gbolahan Obisesan is taking charge of the show.

“I actually found out about the show whilst researching another play,” Obisesan says. “I had been receiving newsletters from Jackie’s agent and I saw the name of the play in one of them and found it intriguing. I eventually read the play and was moved; it was funny, challenging but very tragic.”

Drury’s play is about six young actors in their 20s, three black and three white, who are doing a presentation about the first genocide of the twentieth century. With themes such as race, identity, belonging and culture within the performance, it’s no wonder Obisesan jumped at the chance to get involved. Not many plays bring up the eye-opening reality of such a historic tragedy in a modern day context.

“I really wanted to put the play in front of a British audience and see how they’d respond to it,” Obisesan continues. “In the same way that Jackie Drury intended to engage the audience in the script, I wished to do the same with the production over here – making it poignant and relevant to the audience on a high level. I was excited to get into the rehearsal process with the actors, unlocking and unpicking the play so that it would work theatrically. The play explores an obscure historical event that deals with a lot of issues which the well-intended characters deal with. They become challenged, battered and broken on the legacy of what happened as they look into their human sense of identity.”

Obisesan, a London-based director, originally started out as a member of the National Youth Theatre wanting to be an actor. I asked how he transitioned into writing and directing so successfully. The National Youth theatre started up a programme called Short Nights where it challenged members to write a play. As a result, Obisesan wrote his first play, Roadside, about a young man dealing with addiction and mental illness. “People responded positively to it and I also directed it. It was then I wanted to learn more about what I could offer actors, but I also had more stories within me that I wanted to explore and share through the medium of theatre.” From there, he began looking for outlets to further explore this creative side – and became part of the Soho and Royal Court writers’ groups whilst undertaking an introduction to directing course at the Young Vic. “I was keen to find out which I felt a stronger pull towards without limiting my potential by focusing on just one.”

Which does he prefer, I wonder? Cue another chuckle: “In a way, I think they go hand in hand. Part of my motivation is to remain visible and to not feel limited. I’ve been lucky enough for people to acknowledge me as a writer and a director. As a director, you need to communicate the play to actors and decipher the message. With writing, it’s about sculpting characters, the narrative, and elements of the drama and its structure which may be helpful for the director. So to me, both are valued and they feed off one another. If a writing job comes up, I’ll take it. If a directing job comes up and it’s a play I really want to do I’ll probably take it as well.” He went on to describe himself as a “hired gun”, going where the money is. “You don’t want to be struggling or on benefits and there’s an integrity about making a living whilst having freedom, so the balance of writing and directing for me depends on where the work is coming from.”

Although he had a busy press day ahead, I took time to ask what advice he would offer to directors and theatre makers who are just starting out: “One of the biggest challenges for directors starting out is breaking into the industry, so just jump in with both feet and immerse yourself, rather than half exploring it. Take every opportunity you can and ensure that you’re being creatively challenged whilst learning about the things you’re lacking. If you have a sense of what you want to achieve and where you want to go, you’re more likely to find yourself gaining momentum and not stagnating.” Because from there, he continued, you can find opportunities to match your dreams.

All this is easier if you live in or close to London – but what if you don’t? “Remain visible,” he advises. “Get involved with your local theatre the best way you can – even if it means writing a letter with regards to what you’re interested in. They might be able to lead you in the right direction or support you by making the theatre more open to you. When it comes to being taken seriously, how you present yourself on a professional level is very important. So make adjustments if you need to. It could be your sense of style, how you communicate or your attitude in how you relate to things. As long as you can present strong ideas and back them up there’s no reason they won’t take you seriously.”

We are proud to present a presentation about the Herero of Namibia, formerly known as South-West Africa, from the German SudWest Afrika, between the years 1884 and 1915 is at the Bush Theatre until 12 April. For more information and tickets, visit the Bush’s website


Rachel St John

Rachel St John

Rachel is an aspiring playwright and theatre enthusiast who graduated from Kingston University in 2012. She currently works as a freelance writer and part-time babysitter, and is a regular volunteer at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.

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Feature: Call for Action – IdeasTap Inspires

Posted on 05 March 2014 by Billy Barrett

“We’ve built a site that manages calls for action,” says Amanda White, Strategic Partnerships Director for IdeasTap. The charity maintains a database of more than 135,000 people seeking opportunities in the creative industries, growing at a rate of 200 members per day. It’s become an invaluable resource for organisations to tap into, simplifying and water-tightening application processes that would otherwise take far more time and people-power. Recently awarded a £250,000 Exceptional Award from Arts Council England, the charity is now in “really, really early days” of unveiling IdeasTap Inspires, a national training programme for young people. Is this its largest co-ordinated project yet? “Oh, we’re not fazed by numbers,” White insists. “A lot of what we do is big-number activities, like NYT auditions and 24 Hour Plays. But yes, it is.”

IdeasTap Inspires will engage around 5,000 people in free workshops, masterclasses, training events and online resources across several artistic disciplines. The partner organisations delivering these ‘spas’, White says, “are probably the organisations where you go, ‘oh my god, I’d love to work with them’,” including Complicite, the RSC and longtime IdeasTap collaborators Hightide. “We want to give young people a chance to have a money-can’t-buy experience,” says White. “Tell them what they can’t learn in college and help them build resilience, feel clearer and more confident about where they want to work.’

Partner organisations in the programme are as nationally scattered as Ideastap’s members; spas will also be running at the Royal Exchange Manchester, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Bristol Old Vic. Poppy Keeling, co-ordinator of Complicite’s Creative Learning Programme, was drawn to the collaboration for “a few reasons – the main one being that IdeasTap has such a huge membership and such fantastic nationwide reach that partnering with them means we can meet people with different backgrounds from across the country, people we might not otherwise get to work with.”

Spas will give applicants the opportunity to mirror companies’ practice. “What Complicite is looking for is people interested in making their own work,” White explains. “I’d say that’s very different from what the RSC is looking for, which is people that might be interesting for them to have in their shows.” Keeling elaborates: “The overall aim is to put together a dynamic young company including writer, director, designers and performers, who will work together with Complicite Associates to create a scratch show.”

The company “often gets to work with young performers, directors or designers,” Keeling says, “but we very rarely get the chance to work with them all together in a collaborative setting. This programme – which will see theatre-makers from across disciplines working together – feels really true to the spirit of Complicite’s work.” These spas, White explains, “go from a mass call-out, to a large number of people getting workshops, through to a much smaller group having a much deeper engagement, working with Complicite for two weeks. The RSC one will be a weekend at Stratford with a similar model.”

Meanwhile, Hightide is offering the opportunity for aspiring marketers and designers to “develop their craft and careers” at the company’s annual new writing festival in Halesworth in April. Artistic Director Steven Atkinson is putting together a team to produce Rising Tides, a series of climate change-themed plays debuting at the festival. “It’s an opportunity to have creative freedom,” says Atkinson. “They’re working as professionals but in a safe environment. New plays are always kind of risky because you don’t know if they’re going to be any good and can sometimes be difficult to produce, but in a well-established festival that has all of that mentoring and support around it, they’ll learn how to put a show on and have the opportunity to do it how they want to.”

Funding for the programme comes at a time when public finance is scarce and competition fierce. Education in this climate, White says delicately, can be “tricky. It’s often the area that you can raise money for out of everything in an arts organisation, however [departments] are always on the frontline, always under-served, I think.” I ask Keeling whether she feels under fire. “On the whole I think the education, outreach, access – whatever you choose to call it – sector is thriving.” In austerity, she suggests, “the arguments for community arts work, or arts education work, seem to speak louder to funders. This isn’t definitely something I think is a good thing – it comes with its own dangers and needs to be treated carefully – but it can be a bonus. Of course, as the field gets squeezed there are fewer opportunities for everything, so the pressure is definitely still there.” Under this pressure, Atkinson feels a heavy responsibility with Hightide, of “balancing artistic development with also actually putting shows on and making sure that you’re touring them and that audiences are seeing them.”

Spas are intended to provide young people with more than just a one-off experience. “I hope they’ll come out with a better sense of how to pursue their chosen path, and with new skills,” Keeling says. Or “they could give people a quicker idea that actually this isn’t for them,” considers White. “Like, if you go into a workshop and you’re asked to make a noise like an animal and crouch on all fours, and you think Christ almighty, I didn’t like that.” They’re also an opportunity to build lasting relationships with companies and practitioners. “I hope we’ll put together a company that makes a show so good we just have to tour it,” says Keeling. “But that’s up to the participants, I guess!”

More information about the Ideas Tap Inspires programme can be found on Ideas Tap’s website

Billy Barrett

Billy Barrett

Billy currently studies English and Theatre at Warwick University. Between reviewing and reading for his course, Billy writes, directs and acts in theatre. He tries to see everything in London, Warwick and beyond!

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Review: Romeo and Juliet, Ambassadors Theatre

Posted on 11 November 2013 by Samuel Sims

Romeo and Juliet NYT

With alumni including Academy- and Olivier-award winner Dame Helen Mirren, James Bond’s Daniel Craig and Downton Abbey‘s Golden Globe nominated Michelle Dockery, the National Youth theatre has a reputation for training some of the most successful and talented performers of the past 50 years. It is also a great way for budding thespians to hone their craft without paying the fees required to attend a London drama school, giving them an opportunity that otherwise may have been missed.

The NYT is currently running a ‘coming of age’ theme with a whole host of ambitious treats including Pope Joan, Tory Boyz, Prince of Denmark and Romeo and Juliet, the latter three of which are presently playing at London’s Ambassador’s theatre, usual home to Stomp.

Romeo and Juliet, as we all know, has been interpreted on stage about 5,000,003 times in countless languages and using many a historical back-drop, most of which are relatively contemporary ones. Is it controversial to point out that though it is indeed a beautiful and heartbreaking story, we’re perhaps a little sick of it now?

This production is an adaptation of Lolita Chakrabarti’s TV documentary When Romeo Met Juliet and directed by Paul Roseby. Whilst impressive, it doesn’t really feel as cutting edge as perhaps it thinks it is. Set in 1980s Camden, the set is an explosion of band posters and rich tones albeit with a raw and industrial feel, perfect for a youth subculture seemingly ever on the edge, and costumes (headed by Richard Gellar) are simply everything you imagine when thinking of the decade: all Boy George extravagance, New Romantic too cool for school, and acres of leather and bleached denim. The masquerade ball scene sees the cast don Margaret Thatcher masks and this, whilst predictable, is still mildly effective and, aesthetically, pretty eerie. The use of the backstage area is a clever and inventive one as cast members sing and play through some 80s classics, visible through metal grating. Their voices too are of a high (yet perhaps not completely polished) standard.

On the whole the actors are evidently very talented. Performances feel real and they’re comfortable with bringing humour to the table (though some of that could just have been down to the gaggle of school children in the audience finding the romantic scenes hilarious…) especially making the Friar Caribbean with a strong accent, much to the delight of said children and their teachers. Niall McNamee’s Romeo and Aruhan Galieva’s Juliet are fresh, and Galieva especially puts up a spirited fight against the conforms of her strict and ill-tempered father. Abigail Rose’s Nurse marries a comical swagger with plenty of tenderness and motherly care towards the young Juliet. Her performance is a remarkable one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

This is a definite must see, especially for those wanting to see some unripe talent with bags of potential. The stars of tomorrow? They might well be.

Romeo and Juliet is playing at the Ambassadors theatre until 29 December 2013. For more information and tickets, see the National Youth Theatre’s website.

Samuel Sims

Sam is Reviews Co-ordinator for A Younger Theatre as well as a freelance writer and editor who hails from Hull, though he has been in London for roughly 300 years. He enjoys multi-coloured socks, eating sausage rolls and seeing as much theatre as humanly possible.

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Review: Tory Boyz

Posted on 04 October 2013 by Amina Bhuiyan

Tory Boyz

James Graham’s Tory Boyz is a fly-on-the-wall peek at what happens behind closed doors in the House of Commons. It is a wholly fantastic 90 minute play with some great young actors. Rewritten from its original 2008 setting to today’s previously unthinkable political landscape of the coalition of the Lib Dems and Tories, the relevance of this play is obvious.

The story follows young gay researcher Sam in his discovery of the stickier end of politics. Uncovering and investigating long-buried rumours about former party members makes for a wonderfully written play, surely sealing Graham’s future as a brilliant writer. It is unsurprising that his latest play, This House, is currently a sell-out smash hit.

Simon Lennon, as the lead character, Sam, struggles with his own identity alongside those of the party to whom he chose to pledge his allegiance. This, married with the juxtaposition of Sam’s background against his aspirations, in a touching and sensitive performance, convinces me that his is certainly a face we will be seeing again. Sope Dirisu’s languidly arrogant portrayal of Nicholas, Sam’s boss, is equally compelling, though in a completely different manner. Dirisu’s charisma lit up the Ambassadors Theatre and was an absolute delight. Despite playing the character whose lines ensured he earned the most laughs from the audience, infallible timing and punchy delivery of his quips ensured he was not predictable and as a result my attention did not falter.

I’m convinced these young people on stage for this production will go on to have extremely successful careers in an industry widely infamous for being harsh and competitive. Tory Boyz stars the next generation of phenomenal talent sourced by the ever reliable National Youth Theatre.

We must remember that this production was performed by a young cast, and we therefore can’t expect it to be a perfect West End show. Some of the scenes seemed a little haphazard, especially the parts set in the school, where Sam thoughtfully asks school children what they think should become of matters concerning education. I’m also not convinced it was necessary to link present day goings on to long dead former members of the party who ruled those same offices. Despite this, I don’t believe it was too far off overall.

With so many breathlessly poignant observations delivered in witty little sound bites, it’s easy to see why Tory Boyz sold out in its original form in Soho 2008. I did not see the production the first time round but this version makes me wish I had, especially if the cast were as stellar.

Tory Boyz is at the Ambassadors Theatre on 8, 9, 22 and 29 October. For more information and tickets visit the National Theatre’s website.


Amina Bhuiyan

Amina Bhuiyan

By day Amina works for an accountancy firm in the city. By night she writes about theatre. She has worked with numerous organisations including RADA, The National Youth Theatre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has also studied Drama & Theatre studies and English Language & Literature. Aside from theatre, she also likes a number of things - including but not limited to - food. And then writing about that as well.

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