Battling for Britain song and dance style
When music theatre students at Amersham and Wycombe college heard they were to perform a self-written play at a leading London fringe theatre, they could hardly believe their luck.
The two-week run was a golden opportunity and they knew it. The only problem was the play. Though they had a title - The Battle for Britain - the second-year students on the HND in music theatre had not yet written a word of the script. Undeterred, they hit the ground running.
After accepting the offer from the Chelsea-based Man in the Moon theatre, they produced a thought-provoking ensemble piece lasting 55 minutes. It is based upon evidence from the Nuremberg war trials and juxtaposed with the same social issues affecting Britain today - the British National Party, racism and football hooliganism.
Lecturer Judi Herman said the play asked what lessons had been learned from the Nuremberg trials. The students adopt a Brechtian style of acting to detach themselves from the action with chilling effect.
She said: "I knew the Man in the Moon theatre was running a series of plays focusing upon nationalism to coincide with the VE celebrations and asked whether the students could take part if they could come up with something suitable.
"They were genuinely interested in doing something about World War Two and they produced the script as a result of lots of independent research from various sources, including some extremely harrowing original footage.
"They would go off with all this information and write pieces of the script in response to it. It was interesting to see their approach to such a serious subject matter and the results were staggering. Some of the people involved in the script production had never written before."
The end result - a montage of songs, drama and dance - was impressive. Every one of the 29 students contributed to the writing, production and performance of the play, which was well received.
"We knew it was a chance of a lifetime for a student company to be given a two-week slot at a leading fringe theatre," said Richard Masheder, 23, who was responsible for marketing and publicity. "It gave us an opportunity to explore skills we did not know we had. I have experience of publicity and marketing because I do some work for a professional company, but I had never been involved in play-writing before. It was stimulating."
Gary Jones, 20, who wrote some of the lyrics to a number of the production's haunting or raunchy numbers, found the task of retaining a feel of authenticity a tough task.
"I wanted to write songs which were in keeping with the feeling of the time. I wanted to capture what the concentration camp victims were thinking about at the time rather than what I felt about the situation".
For Nicola James, 20, the experience of acting alongside professional theatre companies proved inspirational. "It has really boosted my confidence," she said.
"When I finish the course I hope to get a job in the performing arts either in acting or doing technical work. The confidence it has given me is such that I do not feel I need higher education right now. Perhaps I might think again in a few years."
Karen Line, is the director of the HND in performing arts (music theatre) course - one of only two currently offered at further education colleges in the country. She explained how it aimed to offer students the chance to develop skills to an advanced level in a wide range of areas.
"The course is largely practical, with a balance of about 60:40 between practical work and theory," she said. "A lot of our students choose not to enrol upon a degree because they want to 'do' rather than read."
Not surprisingly, demand for places on the course is very high. Students are offered the chance to develop skills in a range of areas - production, performance, concerts, tours, lighting, video and music technology. As well as contact with visiting professionals, they gain work experience and a taste of management and marketing.
"Quite a few of our students have applied for entry to higher education on completion of this course, but quite a few have decided they are ready to find work in the performing arts, one has already set up a professional theatre company and employs local directors and writers.
"The experience they have gained from their run at the Man in the Moon theatre has been invaluable. When the chance came they could not believe their good luck. It was a golden opportunity and one from which they have gained so much."
Edited by Ian Nash