A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to watch and learn at the Director’s Weekend for the National Theatre’s Connections Festival, a festival that commissions new writing for young people, and provides the opportunity for young companies and schools to perform on a professional stage. I caught up with the Lincoln Young Company at the halfway point to see how the NTCDW helped them and how they’re getting on.

“It’s a beetroot, not a leek!” jokes Oliver Parkes as a packet of vacuum packed beetroot explodes at the ‘messy’ rehearsal of LYC’s production of I’m Spilling My Heart Out Here by Stacey Gregg. This messy rehearsal reflects just how gruesome Gregg’s material is for these 16-19 year olds to get stuck into. The beetroot is standing in for guts in a play that you can guess sticks pretty literally to the title. There are a lot of challenges in Gregg’s play, it doesn’t stop at prosthetics; I’m dodging eggs and beetroot juice in this rehearsal, and fight choreography in the one before. The cast are putting in as many ideas as the directors over these challenges, and the appreciation for collaboration within the company creates a sense that they’re all working together to create something that they’re excited to be a part of. But perhaps the hardest thing to tackle is the amount of physical contact in Gregg’s play; “some of the activities we did right at the beginning – like following each other with hands to face, and hands to bum, and stuff like that – I didn’t really get why we were doing it but then we read the script and I realised: oh! I get groped! We spent ages at the beginning before we actually knew which parts we were just getting to know each other. We needed to be familiar with each other, and that helped massively,” cast member (and chief baker) Sophie Grayson tells me. On a tangent, the LYC have taken to ‘motivational baking’, creating ISMHOH “cupcakes – but you inject jam into them so it’s like blood spilling out!”

The baking is definitely working because the LYC are line perfect and running the show already, or perhaps it’s that the pressure of performing the show at the Sheffield Crucible is making them up their game. “It holds weight as a venue so you feel an expectation that what you’re producing has to be your best. It’s about the experience for lots of us who haven’t got perhaps the same experiences of performing in theatres as you might have if you went to a drama school,” cast member Linford Butler explains.  The Connections experience is beneficial to him because he’d “love to act. For us, as drama students, to get to the National would be amazing, it stands for what British theatre is and the industry we want to go into.” And that feeling’s unanimous amongst the cast as Grayson agrees, “I’ve been to the National to see so many shows and just to be on the stage instead of in the auditorium would be so exciting, I think that incentive is making me work that little bit harder.”

Gregg’s script does what I think all young people wish for when it comes to drama: it’s relevant content which doesn’t patronise or underestimate what talented companies like this are capable of. Butler believes “there’s certainly a trend in writing for young people in that it often feels quite simple, and what ISMHOH does is it doesn’t shy away from difficult issues and presents it in an accessible format.” So Connections isn’t just providing performance opportunities according to Butler. The plays create “a way to connect with what young people are feeling and thinking. I think the idea of fuelling youth investment in theatre whether in a performing or tech role, or just coming to see it, experiencing theatre made for young people by young people is so important to breaking young people into the industry.” Grayson notes the difference between being a member of a youth theatre and taking part in Connections with the LYC, “I was a member of about four youth theatres back at home but I was the only one that was really serious about it; getting here and having people on the same level as you is so much better. It’s not hard work getting people involved, I can be myself, be enthusiastic and know everybody else will be too.”

“Experiences like this, going into that industry, I feel shape you as a performer. And it’s both the good and bad, this journey has been about hitting walls and finding ways around them,” says Butler, and the problem being tackled as I write this now is the risk of his dear old auntie Ethel in the audience getting caught in the line of eggy fire. It’s likely that Horner-Glister spends more time filling out risk assessments than he does directing at the moment, so kudos to both cast and crew working on Gregg’s play not just in Lincoln but up and down the country. I’d love to see other versions of this play to see how companies are facing the more mature content of Gregg’s play, but I’ll admit I’ve learnt to love this company (and their baking) for reminding me how fun putting on a show can be no matter how serious the content. So, break a leg (and plenty of eggs).

I’m Spilling My Heart Out Here is playing at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre on the 3 March and the Sheffield Crucible on the 25 March alongside other participating companies. For further information see: http://www.lincolnyoungcompany.co.uk/

Connections Festival performances are taking place all over the UK this Spring. For further information see: http://microsites.nationaltheatre.org.uk/connections