Youth theatre

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Plays

Advice for the Young at Heart

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

It’s 2011 and 1958 and London is rioting. Candice is ordered by her gang-leading boyfriend to lure Clint into a honeytrap. Haunted by her grandfather’s mistakes, she stands at a crossroads. Will she do as she’s told, or will she learn to be true to herself before history repeats itself?

A modern tale for riotous times, commissioned and developed by Theatre Centre, Advice for the Young at Heart examines 2011’s unrest against the background of the 1958 race riots, exploring themes of race, family and misguided loyalty. A new play for young people aged 14+.

Advice for the Young at Heart was first performed at Redbridge Drama Centre, London, on 12 September 2013.

At the Inland Sea

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

At The Inland Sea is a strange, searing, dream-like play, showing a child coming face to face with humanity, and all its horror and neglect.

As a boy prepares for the first day of his exams, fussed over by his mother, he meets a woman from the past, and her baby, and the soldiers with rifles who are coming to take them away. The woman tells him about the hardness of her life, and demands a story from him, which will stop the soldiers, but the boy can’t find one that will work. Following his desperate search for a story to save them, the play is a struggle of imagination and compassion, the crux of humanity.

At The Inland Sea is subtitled a play for young people; it was written for the Big Brum Theatre-in-Education company, and was toured to schools and colleges in the West Midlands in 1995.

Banana Boys

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Evan Placey's Banana Boys is a play about the challenges of being on the school football team – and secretly gay. It was commissioned by Hampstead Theatre’s youth theatre company, heat&light, and first performed at Hampstead Theatre, London, on 9 December 2011.

The play revolves around the friendship between two sixteen-year-old boys, Calum and Cameron, who become obsessed with American girl-group, The Banana Girls.

In an introduction to the published script in Girls Like That and other plays for teenagers (Nick Hern Books, 2016), Placey writes: 'Growing up queer there weren’t many young gay role models to look up to. So instead I looked up to music divas. I’m not sure what it was, but there was something about their power, their confidence, and their absolutely being at ease in their own skin that left me in awe. And so the opportunity to create my very own group of divas, The Banana Girls, was irresistible. My favourite films as a teen were the romcoms, except the queer characters didn’t exist in them, never mind being forefront. So it was my chance to rectify the past.'

The Hampstead Theatre premiere was directed by Debra Glazer and designed by Robbie Sinnott. It was performed by members of heat&light youth theatre.

The Bedbug

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ivan Varlet is making a class change. As he prepares to marry his bourgeois bride, the former mechanic casts off his socialist acquaintances and re-invents himself as ‘Ivor Violet’. Before he can embark on his new life, however, a fire at the wedding kills all the guests, and sees Ivan trapped in the ice cellar, frozen into a state of cryogenesis. Fifty years later, after the creation of a global socialist state following a world war, Ivan is unfrozen into an unrecognizable Russia. He swears, drinks, smokes and feels in a state that eschews pleasure and emotion. He causes women to lose their senses at the plucking of his guitar, and hospitalises men with his introduction of beer. Before this ‘early mammal’ can cause more social unrest, he is brought to the civic zoo and displayed as a specimen of society’s primitive past, where school children can feed him with cigarettes and alcohol.

A satire on the distrust of authority and the threat of the independent voice to the socialist system, Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1929 original was written at a time of growing disillusion with the Soviet Union. The Bedbug, adapted by Snoo Wilson, was commissioned by the National Theatre as one of six new plays, adaptations or translations for the 1995 BT National Connections, a collection of contemporary plays for young people.

Burying Your Brother in the Pavement

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jack Thorne's Burying Your Brother in the Pavement is a play that tackles the story of a teenage boy grieving for his dead brother with emotional honesty and imaginative flair. Written specifically for young people, it was commissioned as part of the 2008 National Theatre Connections Festival and premiered by youth theatres across the UK, including a performance at the National Theatre in July 2008.

The play revolves around Tom, 'an ordinary-looking teenager in his early teens'. He is first encountered hiding in the attic to escape the traumatic funeral wake for his brother, Luke, which is taking place in the house below. Luke died on the streets of the dingy, crime-ridden Tunstall Estate, his neck slashed by a broken bottle. The world outside, reflected through Tom's vivid imagination, is colourful and surreal: he is the second coming of Christ; his teacher, Mr Wilkins, has sex with a blow-up doll; people break out unexpectedly into music-hall routines. Tom hatches a plan to bury his brother under the pavement where he died, and camps out there, meeting a succession of characters: planning officials, tramps, undertakers, police officers, sisters, mothers, estate agents, ghosts, pavement elephants, sky dragons and a boy called Tight who wants to sell him a Travelcard. It transpires that Luke had sneaked off to the Tunstall Estate because he was secretly gay and had a crush on a poor boy there. In a further twist, Tom discovers that his brother's death wasn’t in fact a street crime but suicide born of shame. As the ghost of his dead brother says, “I felt crushed, so I crushed myself.”

In a production note accompanying the text, Thorne states: 'The most important thing is that this play is kept scruffy – nothing is beautiful – everything is quick and swiftly accomplished. This should look like a piece of theatre achieved on the bounce and stuffed full of life.'

The Children

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A disturbed mother sends her son, Joe, to burn down a house in an adjacent estate. Manipulating him until he agrees, she abandons him to his fate once he has completed this task. Worse still, the house was not as empty as he thought when he set it alight.

Fleeing from the law, his friends join him on a journey though an increasingly barren and often violent landscape. Despite the difficulty of their situation and the continuing fragmentation of their community, they nonetheless find the spirit and energy to be compassionate to others – particularly a tramp who cannot walk. But the question remains; how will this compassion be rewarded?

The Children was first presented by Classworks Theatre on 11 February 2000 at Manor Community College, Cambridge. The parts of the children were played by pupils from the college. It went on to tour to seventeen venues; in each new venue a different cast of young people played, with only the actors playing Mum and Man remaining constant throughout the tour.

Citizenship

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Citizenship is a bittersweet one-act comedy about growing up, following a boy's frank and messy search to discover his sexual identity.

Tom dreams of being kissed, but he’s not sure whether by a man or by a woman, and he feels he should choose pretty quickly. His friends’ homophobic teasing and interrogations about what he did with his friend Amy the other night leave Tom no space to make up his mind, and he’s got no one to ask for advice, except maybe people on the internet.

Citizenship captures adolescent confusion with a witty and sensitive charm, crackling with humorous and authentic dialogue.

Ravenhill’s play was developed as part of the National Theatre Connections 2005 Programme and premiered in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre, London.

Cockroach

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Sam Holcroft's play Cockroach depicts a world infected by violence, exploring Darwin's theory of evolution and the apparent male propensity for war. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 23 October 2008, in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland.

The play is set in a classroom in a seemingly normal modern-day comprehensive school. While Beth, the teacher, instructs the unruly pupils in the principles of natural selection, the boys are being called up to fight in some unspecified conflict that rages on in the world outside. Beth believes that only education will set her pupils free, but, despite her best efforts, the tide of conflict is soon lapping at the school gates. One by one, pupils and teacher are pulled under as their hopes and dreams float away from them. In a central recurring image, the girls clean the torn and bloodied uniforms of dead soldiers.

The premiere production was directed by Vicky Featherstone and designed by Naomi Wilkinson. It was performed by Frances Ashman, Ryan Fletcher, Meg Fraser (as Beth), Laura McMonagle, Helen Mallon and Owen Whitelaw.

Consensual

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Evan Placey's Consensual is a play about a pupil-teacher relationship that has overstepped the mark. It was first performed by the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at Ambassadors Theatre, London, on 18 September 2015.

The play's action revolves around a British secondary school, with an ensemble group of students maintaining an insistent presence throughout the first half. Diane is a teacher and Head of Year 11, charged with implementing the new ‘Healthy Relationships’ curriculum. Seven years ago, as a 22-year-old teaching assistant, she made a mistake: she got too close to one of her unhappy 15-year-old pupils, Freddie. Now she is a fully-qualified teacher and heavily pregnant, and Freddie has turned up. Lost and unhappy, he's intent on pressing charges. Though we see both of their stories, in the first half we're never sure the truth of what happened. While Diane tries to teach a bunch of teenagers SRE – the new educational buzzword for Sex and Relationships Education – her world unravels in the background. Freddie, meanwhile, is undermined and ridiculed by his brother for going to the police. At the time, he crowed about his conquest. Unsettlingly, who is right and who is wrong is not clear cut.

The National Youth Theatre production was directed by Pia Furtado and designed by Cecilia Carey. The cast was Lauren Lyle, Oscar Porter-Brentford, Grace Surey, Megan Parkinson, Conor Neaves, Cole Edwards, Oliver West, Luke Pierre, Gavi Singh Chera, Jason Imlach, Oliver West, Andrew Hanratty, Francene Turner, Melissa Taylor, Alice Feetham, Paris Iris Campbell and Ellise Chappell.

Derek

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Derek is a short farce with the significance of social commentary, telling a story of waste and exploitation.

The aristocratic Biff is the proud possessor of an Eton education, a Sandhurst polishing, and a mental age of a ten-year-old. To his disgust, some people have pointed out that because of the latter he should not be made a Member of Parliament. So Biff needs a genius desperate enough to sell his brain, and finds Derek, a floor-sweeper who has just outsmarted a safe and stolen two million pounds.

The play is a comic but sharp critique of social stratifications which allow those with a privileged background to steal the life and self of those less fortunate, and send them to die in wars they don’t understand.

Derek was first performed in 1982 at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Youth Festival at The Other Place, Stratford Upon Avon.

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).