Across five centuries of British history, small groups of children seek sanctuary in the same solid, old wardrobe. It’s the safest place they know – but is it safe enough?

The Wardrobe, a fresh and intimate tale of a 500-year-old wardrobe and the many children over the years who visit it, is the newest play by National Theatre Studio resident playwright Sam Holcroft, and one of the ten plays selected for this year’s NT Connections Festival, the NT’s annual festival of new plays curated for young performers. This week I had a chat with Holcroft about her collaboration with NT Connections and her thoughts on how an innovative arts festival like this can benefit young people…

“I’ve heard other writers talk about how much they’ve enjoyed and learnt from their experience with Connections,” Holcroft begins. “I was delighted when Anthony Banks asked me in for a coffee to talk about a possible collaboration.”
NT Connections is a theatre festival for young people, made by young people. Connections has carefully selected ten playwrights, all with a new, exciting script written with both young audiences and young actors in mind. These ten plays have been made accessible to youth theatre groups all over the country and performed by 230 schools and young companies. These numerous productions were then whittled down to a mere ten, and these lucky youth companies were invited back to perform at the National. “I travelled to see about ten productions of The Wardrobe in the space of two months,” Holcroft tells me. “I expect I will never again have the opportunity to see and read about so many interpretations of one of my plays. It’s a fantastic learning opportunity for a writer – so many productions really test the script. You get to know very quickly which parts of the text are strong and which need help.”

So how did Holcroft get to where she is now? Believe it or not, she actually began reading Biology at the University of Edinburgh – at what point did her hobby transform into a profession? “In my last year at university I was writing my dissertation in a laboratory in Edinburgh by day, and by night I was writing plays for my student theatre group,” Holcroft explains. “I was also a member of the Traverse Theatre’s Young Writers Group.” After graduation, she was offered the chance to do a PhD, but took a year out to experience other possibilities, and it was here that her playwriting flourished. “During that year I was offered a commission from Traverse Theatre and that was the encouragement I needed to pursue playwriting over biology. It took me four years before I could write full time – throughout my entire life as a writer I’ve had to supplement my income with temping work, but it’s worth it.” And what about advice for all you budding playwrights and scriptwriters? “Just write! Write as much and as often as you can. Enter writing competitions and join young writers’ groups. Seek out other young theatre-makers and work together, write a play and take it to a festival! Research theatres which accept unsolicited scripts and send in your work, then send in another and whatever you do keep writing!”

Now that Holcroft has many successful plays under her belt (Edgar & Annabelle, While You Lie and Dancing Bears to name a few), collaborating with a renowned arts festival like NT Connections can only take her from strength to strength. “It was a huge privilege to write a play for Connections, it’s given me the chance to see my work produced across the length and breadth of my country. It has introduced my work to the next generation of young actors, and put me in touch with many great UK-based directors, producers, set and lighting designers, and stage management teams. And I will have a play of mine performed in The Shed for the first time… It’s been an incredibly valuable step in my writing career.”

Something I particularly wanted to ask Holcroft was about the process of not only writing a piece of theatre for young audiences, but also a script for a company of entirely young people to work with, and it’s clear that above all she wanted to inspire the young actors to continue making theatre: “The important challenge was to think about and then write about themes that resonate with young audiences, I tried to do this by exploring the possibility that young people have struggled with the similar hopes, desires and oppressions across time and place. I also wanted to provide a young company of performers with a range of parts, so I set the play over a long period of time… Princesses, maids, masters, slaves, school boys, choir boys, soldiers, friends and young lovers all climb inside the wardrobe over the course of five hundred years of British history.”

So, if The Wardrobe sounds like your cup of tea don’t miss it at the National Theatre in July. Also keep your eyes peeled next year for another of Holcroft’s plays, Rules for Living, which is premiering at the National Theatre in 2015. “Rules for Living is a play about the rules we write for ourselves to help our daily lives, and how we can become trapped by them. It’s a work in progress, but with the help of director Marianne Elliott it’s shaping up to be a play with explosive consequences!”

Connections Festival is at the National Theatre from 2 – 7 July. The Wardrobe will be performed on Thursday 3 July. For more information visit the Connections website.