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Spain's loss is Leeds' gain;FE Focus

Kevin Berry reports on how the world premiere of a student play was transferred from Federigo Lorca's passionate Andalucia to a city with more prosaic tradition.

Performing arts students at Park Lane College, Leeds, have opened a new theatre venue in the city with the premiere of their own play.

The open-air amphitheatre at the Royal Armouries museum has been used by stuntmen to demonstrate historical fighting techniques but Lucy's Hell, devised by the students after a research visit to southern Spain, is the first play to be performed there.

The students had been expecting to perform at Competa, a hill top village in Andalucia, but problems with a bid for European Social Funding meant that plans had to be changed.

Lucy's Hell was reshaped for an English audience, the English dialogue was strengthened and the Spanish content reduced but the Spanish atmosphere and locations were retained. Performing Arts Lecturer Derek Ross then had to scour West Yorkshire for a suitably large outdoor location.

"We needed a big space, it is a spectacular production'', he said. "Friends told me we could do it at the Armouries, but they meant indoors. I came here and found the amphitheatre, quite by accident. It was a great surprise. I never knew that it existed''.

The amphitheatre has a cobbled and sloping stage, and suffered heavy downpours during rehearsals, the students were very enthusiastic. It's an impressive setting, with its dockland backdrop, especially in the moonlight.

"We'll be remembered as the first", beamed Clare Bullock who plays the eponymous Lucy. "It is such a lovely-looking place. Now other groups will want to perform here".

Derek Ross explained that students on Park Lane's BTec National Diploma course take a production abroad every year. Students have travelled to Athens, Sweden, Finland and Spain in previous years and Hungary is on the agenda for next year.

Spain was a theme for this year with street theatre performances by the students in Spanish villages and holiday resorts, a production of Federigo Lorca's Blood Wedding in Leeds in February and the research visit to Andalucia which took place in April.

"It gives them experience of non-English speaking audiences", said Derek Ross. "Plus they get a chance to look at playwrights from other cultures in their own context and of course it helps with their personal development".

Clare Bullock explained that the three week-stay in Andalucia had been spent looking for suitable characters for the play and soaking up as much of the culture as was possible. The students researched life stories and family histories and then found out about local myths and legends.

Lucy's Hell was devised and performed by final year students with second year students responsible for the design and first years the costumes. It is loosely based on the Dr Faustus legend, with the central character changed to an actress who has a consuming greed for fame and fortune.

The students have fashioned a wonderfully surprising ending, but we are of course sworn to secrecy.

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