From Bugsy to the Dubliners

23rd August 1996 at 01:00
Brian Hayward shows how young talent makes a mark on the festival. In the pot luck and chance-your-arm of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the National Youth Music Theatre is always a rock of excellence, a national treasure and a regular hot ticket - and capable of springing the occasional surprise, this year letting the juniors, the under-16s, have Bugsy Malone all to themselves.

To be honest, even in this special re-write for the NYMT, Bugsy isn't a great musical. The story is miniscule, there are too many characters (the programme names 44, and adds: "The other 121 roles are played by members of the company"), and I challenge you to hum one of the tunes.

It doesn't exactly fit the stage like a glove, either, with its 200 period costumes, 20 locations and a car chase. However, this is all grist to the NYMT mill, which grinds extremely small - fine detail is the company's hallmark.

Take the opening for example. Bugsy loiters on the dark sidewalk, chatting with passers-by in a quiet, down-played prologue. In the blink of an eye, the stage is a noisy nightclub, with band, singers, dancers and a crowd of customers and staff, everyone perfectly in role.

From then on, these talented young people, with all the assurance that practised skill gives them, romp through their business. There are two pleasures in this sort of thing; one is enjoying the performance, the other is to look up the age of the performer in the programme.

The cocksure Bugsy, the adoring moll Tillie, and dapper, dancing Kneecaps all admitted to being 12 (12 going on 35, that is), which made it slightly easier to believe that the torch-singer Tallulah was all of 15. These people will have a successful career behind them before they leave school.

The NYMT pursue excellence so close they tread on its heels, and that is true on stage, back stage, in the pit and behind their desks. It's a great opportunity for anyone between the ages of 11 and 19 years (with a talent), and the autumn auditions are being held in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

From the familiar to the unknown. The Hawaii Children's Theatre Paradise Players was not to be missed, and the opening moments of the chant of welcome, aloha, and the (albeit plastic) lei around the neck, were encouraging. Alas, we were swiftly back in New York, with 'Voices from the High School', originally written for the students at the Fame school.

The ebullient drama director explained: "These kids come from Kauai. It's just a rauck." It is a healthy rock, by the look of these youngsters, but obviously not strong on tertiary education, for which they must go to the United States, or Britain. The play-acting, and touring, is to warn them of the world; it warmed me to Kauai.

Edinburgh University Theatre Club, always a group to be taken seriously, are at their most intriguing with Linford Cazenove's direction and adaptation of three stories from James Joyce's Dubliners. The three tales are interweaved, progressing and concluding in parallel.

Some powerful acting and creative stagecraft, with Amy Duncan's sub-song, bring home the enterprise, despite the handicap of inadequate scenery. Book adaptation is the stock and store of the theatre nowadays; my advice to playwrights is always to be unfaithful to the author, especially if he's a genius.

National Youth Music Theatre: Bugsy Malone. George Square TheatreHawaii Children's Theatre: Voices from the High School. South Bridge Resource Centre Edinburgh University Theatre Club: Dubliners. Bedlam Theatre

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