Do you believe in paradise? Do you believe in family? Do you believe in god? Do you believe in war? Commissioned and toured by the Theatre Centre, Leo Butler exposes war and its aftermath among a group of confused young people in this George Devine Award-winning piece of theatre.
Fin Kennedy’s The Domino Effect is an ensemble play for teenage performers developed by Kennedy with his long-term collaborators, Mulberry School for Girls in Shadwell, East London. Incorporating dance and physical theatre sequences, the play revolves around a central character who is mute, and explores ideas about fate, self-determination and the law of unintended consequences. It was first performed by Mulberry Theatre Company at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 4 August 2014.
The play is set in the East End of London. Amina Rahman is fifteen and never speaks – a silent protest against a world in which bad things always seem to happen to good people. Instead, she retreats into fantasy. But when her mother walks out, Amina is left to fend for herself. It takes an ancient set of dominoes, and a mysterious antiques dealer, for Amina to discover her power. The antiques dealer teaches her how small actions lead to big effects, and how to master the law of unintended consequences.
In an introduction accompanying the published text, Fin Kennedy writes: 'The Domino Effect was conceived in summer 2013, while on a short break in France in which I watched again one of my favourite films, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. Hang on, I thought. This is a Mulberry story. Set in the inner city, with a teenage girl at its heart, Amélie is about an introvert with an overactive imagination, which starts to spill out into the real world, until even she isn’t sure what is and isn’t real. I often met young women like this in Mulberry, and it seemed a good opportunity to develop a play looking at the interior worlds of these more introverted students (who are also not always the easiest students to engage in Drama). I started to wonder, what would an East London version of Amélie look like?'
The Mulberry School production was directed by Shona Davidson and designed by Barbara Fuchs.
Fin Kennedy’s The Dream Collector is an ensemble play for teenage performers, the fifth developed by Kennedy with his long-term collaborators, Mulberry School for Girls in Shadwell, East London – but this time also involving students from a second local school, St Paul’s Way Trust School in Bow.
It was first performed by Mulberry Theatre Company, as the inaugural production at the Mulberry and Bigland Green Centre, in November 2013, with a parallel premiere production performed at St Paul’s Way Trust School in December 2013.
The play follows a school group who go on a Media Studies trip to an isolated country house which once belonged to a movie pioneer, Charles Somna. Upon arriving, they discover that Somna was responsible for much more than the creation of mere movies – as the inventor of the Somnagraph he had built the world’s first machine for screening your dreams. Once they step through the movie screen and enter the Dreamworld, each of the young friends meets their dream double, the sinister Neverborn.
In an author's note published with the script, Kennedy writes: 'The play has been written for sixteen young actors aged fourteen to sixteen. One group is a ‘Real World’ twenty-first-century group of school students from East London. These eight all have names and individual identities. The other is an ensemble cast of eight who inhabit the ‘Dream World’. They are known as the Neverborn. Their world is like a black-and-white film, and is stylised and movement-based. They bring to life the other cast’s dreams, and share lines as a chorus. Each Real World cast member has a Neverborn who shadows them, and plays them in their dream sequence. This means there needs to be a minimum of eight Neverborn, but there could be more if a larger cast is available.'
The Mulberry Theatre Company production was directed by Shona Davidson and designed by Barbara Fuchs and Afsana Begum. The St Paul’s Way Trust School production was directed by Kelly Jasor.
Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s play Epic Love and Pop Songs is a two-hander about teenage friendship and the pressures of growing up. It was first performed at Pleasance Dome as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 6 August 2016, produced by Showroom.
The play's action is narrated, largely in direct address to the audience, by two sixteen-year-old characters, Doll and Ted. Doll has attitude and a pregnancy bump, while Ted – her friend, but not her boyfriend – is shy and vulnerable. It transpires that the pregnancy is Doll's fantasy, aimed partly at getting her mother's attention, partly at proving to her school friends that she's sexually active. Meanwhile, Ted's family is falling apart under the strain of coping with his sister's death, and in Doll he has found someone to love and protect. But as Doll's lie unravels, their friendship is tested to the limit.
An author's note included in the published playtext explains that 'Ted and Doll are the storytellers and this play is all about how you spin a tale. The set is negotiable, there could be a bed and a chair, a teenage bedroom from which a world is created, or nothing at all.'
The Edinburgh Fringe premiere was directed by Jamie Jackson and directed by Anna Reid, with Norah Lopez Holden as Doll and George Caple as Ted.
Produced by companies in Britain and Ireland, the play offers a contemporary version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, exploring father/daughter relationships and the need for independence. For 12 years and over.
James Fritz’s The Fall is a play about ageing and intergenerational differences, written to be performed by young people. It was first performed by the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Finborough Theatre, London, on 9 August 2016.
The play comprises three loosely connected scenes. In 'First', two young people, Boy and Girl, encounter a dead body for the first time. In 'Second', set 'years later', a married couple, One and Two, experience difficulty and frustration while caring for an ageing parent and supporting their child. In 'Third', again set 'years later', four older people, A, B, C and D, try to accommodate themselves to straitened circumstances in an institutional room intended for two, repeatedly tempted by the offer of cash settlements for their families if they agree to be euthanised.
The National Youth Theatre premiere was directed by Matt Harrison and designed by Chris Hone. The cast was Simeon Blake-Hall, Ben Butler, Oliver Clayton, Matilda Doran-Cobham, Hannah Farnhill, James Morley, Katya Morrison and LaTanya Peterkin.
Fin Kennedy’s play Fast is an ensemble play for teenage performers commissioned by Y Touring, an established theatre company that produces and tours plays for young people about complex, science-based issues. It explores issues around fasting, diet, food production and food security. The play was workshopped at Regent High School in Camden, London, before being performed as part of a young people’s summer school run by Y Touring on 22 August 2014.
The play is set among a group of Year 11 classmates (fifteen to sixteen years old) of mixed social backgrounds, in an unnamed state secondary school, in a medium-sized British town, near to some countryside. Cara, a sixteen-year-old student, is from a farming family, and we learn that one year previously her father had killed himself. When Cara’s school holds a twenty-four-hour fast in aid of Oxfam, Cara decides she will not eat again until Tesco’s and the other suppliers, whom she holds responsible for driving her father to suicide, are held to account.
The Y Touring premiere was directed by Dominique Poulter and Nathan Bryon and designed by The Company.
Recreating London's East End in 1936 with historical accuracy, the play contrasts personal and political choices for a group of young Jewish people at the time of the Battle of Cable Street with those of young people today.
Luke can't choose between his shirts, let alone his parents.
Rhiannon looks like a small town girl and single mother; but her nightlife as a graffiti artist means her tag (ghost) has become admired around the world. One fateful night she saves a copper's life while out tagging and wildstyling and realises she must now move on.
A term used since the Second World War to denote the creative use of young people’s spare time through the medium of theatre and drama. The activity has grown out of schools drama, enlightened amateur theatre and community drama initiatives, but is not now tied to any single institutional allegiance and involves theatrical performances created by many different groupings of young people. In 1999 there were more than 700 youth theatre groups in the United Kingdom. Those aged between 11 and 20 are the most active participants but the age range has extended to cover those from 5 to 30 years and older. Nearly all work with groups is undertaken on a full or part-time basis by leaders from a wide range of professional backgrounds, primarily education, theatre and youth work.
In the summer of 1956 Michael Croft undertook a production of Shakespeare’s Henry V with a group of former pupils from Alleyn’s School, south London, where he had been teaching. Youth theatre’s first major public manifestation in Britain was thus an emancipation of the school play whose tradition had been long but fairly conservative. Croft’s project grew in scope and reputation, despite many struggles for official recognition and funding, and was in 1961 given the title National Youth Theatre. Croft’s initiative inspired a number of developments in youth theatre during the following two decades, including the annual National Festival of Youth Theatre, which lasted from 1977 to 1986. At the National Festival in 1982 the initiative was taken to set up a National Association of Youth Theatres, and this body has continued to act as a support and development agency for youth theatre work since that date. In the 1970s County Youth Theatres were set up by local education authorities in places like Leicestershire and Devon, and a number of regional repertory theatres established their own groups. The momentum of youth theatre development was picked up in the 1980s by local government departments concerned with recreation and in the 1990s by national funding agencies as a medium for youth arts work. Many groups have set up independently, and youth theatre continues to owe its rather ad hoc growth to a number of committed and hardworking individuals. There has always been an awareness, however, that through youth theatre work young people’s performances provide a radical renewal of social perspective both for the participants and for the communities to which they belong.
Youth theatre advances in line with the differing social and cultural emphases of individual countries. Throughout mainland Europe, where there are huge discrepancies in support and development, it enjoys a wide variety of cultural affiliations. In Austria and Finland, for example, it has evolved out of a strong amateur theatre tradition with the help of supportive youth work. Danish youth theatre has also received its greatest encouragement from youth work and the great diversity of the educational system, and plays an important role in social education and theatrical experimentation. In Portugal, a similar tradition has been recovered since the return to civilian government in 1974, which has lent a strong socio-cultural dimension to the work. In France and Malta, by contrast, there are strong links with formal education, particularly drama training, and in the Netherlands much work is centred on professional theatre companies. Whether youth theatre development is sparse, as in Flanders, or strong and well-supported, as in Germany, it is generally felt that the work is given insufficient public support and status.
There are strong developments in the United States and in India and south-east Asia, where subsidized professional theatre is less common, and youth theatre forms part of a strong community drama movement. In Australia an impressive tradition of innovation and social relevance has developed out of the creative coalition of young performers and professional practitioners.
Despite the lack of a worldwide organization, a spirit of internationalism has been greatly advanced by the increasing number of international exchange visits between groups. In 1982 the first European Children’s Theatre Encounter was held in Belgium, and in 1987 young people from 19 European countries attended the first European Youth Theatre Encounter in Stratford-Upon-Avon in Britain. Both events have continued to be hosted by European countries on a regular basis in the 1990s.
Youth theatre in the UK continues to develop, thanks mainly to the work of the National Association. It established the Big Youth Theatre Festival in 1994 as a major focus of growth for the medium, and in 2000 the Festival attracted 800 participants from seven countries to a greenfield site in the south of England. Increasing numbers of groups experiment with the language of performance and across art forms to produce hybrid work which is ‘postmodern’ in spirit. History may characterize youth theatre by such radicalism, see it as one creative element in a leisure-based culture or acknowledge its enduring value as the best of youth work; in any event, thanks to the participation of generations of young people, its effects will be felt for many decades and in many cultures.
from Roger Hill, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2011).