Every year, the National Theatre commissions some of the UK’s most exciting writers to write ten plays for the theatre-makers of tomorrow.
Fisher Youth Theatre Group perform Find A Partner by on 22 June, 20Twenty Productions will stage Witches Can’t Be Burned on 23 June followed by Broadland High Ormiston Academy’s production of Like There’s No Tomorrow the same day.
We’re also supporting Inspire Peterborough College (The IT by Vivienne Franzmann), Framingham Earl High School (Find A Partner), PACT Theatre Company (Tuesday), Wisbech Grammar School (Look Up), Reepham High School (Look Up) and Stagecoach Cambridge and Cambourne.
We spoke to some of the companies involved.
Set against the backdrop of a group of students performing Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible, Witches Can’t Be Burned by Silva Semerciyan explores the changing perceptions of gender, protest and equality, putting Miller’s iconic play, its relevance and its politics on trial.
Katherine Nightingale, Creative Director at 20Twenty Productions, said: “The 20Twenty Connections cast have been as creative as they possibly can with this play. Only having five weeks to come together due to Covid restrictions, they have managed to create a performance with a cast who play a number of different roles as and when they want to. A cast member will randomly select a character and using character ticks and a script the play comes together.”
Ade Slack is a drama teacher at Framingham Earl High School, which hasn’t taken part in NT Connections in recent years. He’s directing Find A Partner alongside Donna Bagshaw.
Ade said: “It’s been great to join in the festival this year. Donna and I attended the directors’ weekend, held online in November and were pleased to meet the playwright of the piece, Miriam Battye.
“It’s a piece of theatre about relationships. It’s like a mix of Love Island and The Hunger Games. The premise is that of a game show and the contestants have to find a partner or ‘be out’. Characters meet a grisly end if they are deemed to have failed somehow.”
He said the rehearsal period has been like no other. Auditions were held in December, and everything was ready to start in January. However, Covid lockdowns delayed the start and rehearsals only began in late March.
“The rehearsal schedule had to be rewritten more times than can be imagined. The school has a committed cast in place and the blocking and characterisation work is going well. There is another month to go before the show. The Year 10 students who make up the main cast have given the school their work experience time to make sure the play is ready for performance.”
The school has been helped by the Norwich Charitable Trust, which has supported the Flourish at Fram project, where the school is using the performing arts to help support the young people at Fram as they re-settle after the various lockdowns.
Find a Partner is a big part of this project. The school has used the money to buy a new lighting rig, LED lights, lighting desk, haze machine and a theatre in a box.
Ade added: “These new additions mean our production will look amazing. The cast are very excited by the technical elements of the play and the possibilities available to them.”
Arnold Clarke have also supported the production, helping to pay for the costumes, the set and the publicity.
“The set has been particularly exciting as we have worked with the Men’s Shed in Poringland who are making some flats which the art department are going to work their magic on. It’s a really collaborative piece of work. We are also going use lots of smoke, having bought a smoke machine.
“Rehearsals have been lots of fun and it’s been brilliant to see the talented performers of Fram take on the challenge of Miriam’s play.”
The performance takes place on 8-9 July at the Fram Drama Studio. Tickets are available from the school.
Connections has also been a positive experience for PACT Theatre Company, who will perform Tuesday by Alison Carr at Soham Village College, on 14 July.
Light, playful and nuanced in tone. It’s a little bit sci-fi.
The play centres on an ordinary Tuesday that suddenly turns very weird when a tear rips across the sky over the school yard. It then starts sucking up pupils and staff while at the same time raining down a whole new set of people. But then, that’s what happens when parallel worlds collide.
Confusion reigns as the us and them try to work out what is going on. Eventually, cracks appear between the two groups. As the air here starts to disagree with the them, the race is on to try to get things back to how they were and safely return everyone to the universe they came from.
The play touches on themes of friendship, sibling love, family, identity, grief, bullying, loneliness and responsibility. We might just learn something about ourselves as well as some astronomical theories of the multiverse in the process.
Peter Hedge, Head of Performing Arts, said: “We’ve been rehearsing on and off since September and kept on going online and in person. We’ve all enjoyed making it together.
“One of the highlights, apart from all the discoveries we’ve made while working on the piece, was the opportunity to talk with the playwright and hear more about how and why the play was written.”
Edwina Harvey, Head of Drama at Broadland High Ormiston Academy, said her Year Nine students were looking forward to sharing their interpretation of a Like There’s No Tomorrow created by the Belgrade Young Company with Justine Themen, Claire Procter and Liz Mytton, which is extremely relevant but also playful and fun.
“After a challenging year, we’re looking forward to presenting our performance. Our students have faced the hurdles of rehearsing online during lockdown and at lunchtimes when restrictions prevented them from staying after school.
“We’re so proud because they have met each new challenge with positivity and commitment, staying enthusiastic and creative throughout. We will be performing scenes from the original play, aiming to retain the original message and produce a piece that is innovative and inspiring.
“Our students are looking forward to performing in a new space at The Garage and our production really is testimony to the conceit that the show must go on.”
Year Nine students at Reepham High School faced similar obstacles preparing for Look Up by Andrew Muir.
Harriet Riley, who teaches music and drama, said: “It was difficult to rehearse online throughout lockdown where a majority of the cast live in north Norfolk and are without fast internet or access to adequate technology to do so.
“We also had major renovations on our drama facilities, which meant we spent several weeks without our rehearsal space. Despite this, the group have persevered and showed incredible creativity, taking real ownership of the choice of music and interpretation of the text.”
The play is about nine teenagers who break into an abandoned building and set up a new world with their own rules away from adult intervention.
“Although every character is very different, they learn to work together, support one another and embrace each other’s differences. The cast have particularly enjoyed discussions surrounding LGBTQ+ and prejudice which are running themes throughout the play.”
They will perform on 12-14 July to a reduced audience. The production will also be filmed.
Wisbech Grammar School is staging the same play.
They were fortunate to be able to at least audition and then begin the rehearsal process in school before Christmas. They had many discussions about the text and the internal motivation of not only the scripted characters, but also the additional members of their “tribe”. The creative team sketched ideas for costume and makeup and a site-specific location was identified for performance.
Susan Duncan, Head of Drama, said: “It was all so exciting. In lockdown two, we were amazed by the actual physical joy of working online. Using several of the brilliant ideas from the directors’ weekend, I got the company to sign in for early rehearsals with scrounged headgear that was suggestive of character.
“The sound designer played around with different surfaces to enhance or muffle effects and we ‘danced it out’. I sent curious packages of flying saucer sweets, dramatic makeup palettes and essential props such as mouse traps with suitable H&S instructions to all the company and we just played.
“No matter how difficult the online lessons were before and after, we all signed in and discovered new ways of rehearsing, even when my broadband dropped out, and we made a different kind of theatre, and four cast members were delighted to join the discussion with the playwright in the early spring.”
They performed twice live on Teams in March, with the company really happy with their mentor director’s comments and enthusiasm. This is the version that will be shown in Norwich.
Susan added: “Then it got a bit bonkers. We gave ourselves six hours, spread over ten days, to stage the production in a black box studio. Trying to maintain the two metre [rule] was so, so difficult and it was all so rushed we did not feel that we had really done the playwright justice, but we did film it.”
They can’t come to Norwich in person because, on the strength of making theatre as part of Connections, they are making live theatre again at school.
“This time, the ‘social distanced concert-ish schools’ version of Spamlot’. The vast majority of the cast are the from ‘the tribe’ so the positive effects of this weird year are creating more good things.”
Adam Taylor, Executive Director at The Garage, said: “It’s always thrilling working with the next generation of theatre-makers, even more so after the challenges of the last year or so. Congratulations to everyone taking part.”
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It’s showtime! We can’t wait to open the doors to our theatre again. There’s plenty to enjoy – with drama, music and comedy. Adam Taylor,