David Ashton travelled the length of the country to see productions of his new play for young people
The Jagged Ones are a tribe who live in world-under, a dark, slimy fungaloid hang-out. Into their midst comes a princess who claims to have fallen from world-over, a place of warmth and light. She persuades the Jagged Ones to help her find that through which she fell . . . THE GOLDEN DOOR. A hard dangerous journey with many monsters on the way, and the tribe find out, in the end, that princesses are not always what they seem. I had my own journeys.
Brighton. Dress rehearsal at the local arts centre. The kids were great. The production emphasised the fairy-tale elements - touching, funny with that purity of emotion that the young have before society lays its hands on them. Talked to the cast afterwards and wriggled a bit, devious shifty adult that I am, before their honesty of purpose.
Warrington. Woolston High School and what a performance! About 60 in the cast, sprouting out of the walls, through the floor, everywhere. I'm sure one of them appeared from my inside pocket, and getting into a Scotsman's inside pocket is no mean feat. An adult audience, dazed by the energy and commitment of the young. At the talk afterwards I was struck by the easy relationship between the kids and their teacherdirectors. Ate a curry at midnight, still whistling the tunes.
Ben Kingsley (local lad) Theatre in Salford and another high octane show. Mr Kingsley turned up. He's an old mate, so we nattered to the kids afterwards, then we all sloped off to the pub. Again the striking equality between directorteacher and cast. They'd done so much work on the characters and the piece that I went against the habits of a lifetime and bought a round of drinks.
Inverness. Nice to be back in the Auld Country. The Eden Court stage was big and dark. Production was minimalist. Severely minimalist, idea being that the monsters were the hallucinogenic by-products of the tribe eating too many magic fungi of world-under. I was fretting, the cast and play seemed lost in the dark. Then I realised that all around me the young audience were shouting, cheering and having a fine old time. I stopped fretting and started shouting and cheering.
Leeds. Interplay Theatre. They work with young people who have learning disabilities. Saturday morning rehearsal, the patience, love and necessary firmness that the helpers (all women) gave to these kids was awesome. The story of the play was told with such enjoyment and sincerity that, well, I felt like a fraud, but a fraud who'd done something useful for once. Big kiss for you guys.
Cheltenham. My last port of call in this rather manicured town - all hell was breaking loose in the theatre. There's a giant in my play and this behemoth was the baddest best giant in the Cotswolds. A terrific production, a huge cast and an audience with their ears pinned back as that wall of energy hit them. Again in the talk I was struck by the positive intelligence of the kids. No fear. Impudent, sexy and ready to rock and roll.
It could have been any of them but the Cheltenham production is the one on at the Olivier Theatre, July 15, 7pm. I'll be there, shouting and cheering. My love to one and all. Thanks for the journey . . .
BT Connections is at the National Theatre from July 9-15. David Ashton's The Golden Door is one of 12 new plays by established writers to be performed in the final stage of a country-wide celebration of youth theatre, sponsored by BT