TES writers on youth theatre at BT National Connections. The good news is that BT has given Pounds 400,000 to fund specially commissioned youth plays around the country, a selection of which has just been presented at the National Theatre. The bad is that it isn't certain they will continue to support the project. On the evidence of the first night they'd be mad not to.
The first night started with Daisy Campbell's School Journey to the Centre of the Earth, neatly plotted around the super-imaginative odd-ball Trish who convinces her school mates on an outing to a fun park that their teacher is in league with the KGB. On arrival, the big dipper will torpedo the school party to the centre of the earth. For all its pleasantly surrealist touches, the play's strength lies in the dialogue which superbly captures pre-pubescent teenagers' petty cruelties. It was given a terrific production by Northern Ireland's Bangor Drama Club, and performed with zest and imagination by the young actors Richard Cameron's more ambitious Almost Grown tackles the loss of innocence of a group of friends whom we see, first and last, as 12-year-old kids. These witty, biting scenes exude a lively comic vitality, and were beautifully performed by Jonathon Soton, Richard Smart and Mark Alemo of Lewisham Youth Theatre. The acting in the rest of the play which traces the tragedy of how these friends are torn apart by an accident, was equally good, but, at times, the writing lacks focus, so that the plot is often opaque. Never mind. There were moving moments which will linger in the imagination.
Saturday night audiences were treated to two exceptionally well presented plays, one ending in despair and the other in hope, albeit a vague one.
Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Odon von Horv th's Faith, Hope and Charity performed by Moral Support, Glasgow, was a powerful piece, bringing together the absurdist nightmarishness of Kafka with the playful qualities of Theatre de Complicite.
The tale of a young woman driven to despair by unemployment and being written off by society is as relevant today as it was in pre-war Germany, where it was banned. Finely tuned ensemble acting, intelligent direction and the starkly simple set design which, to quote presenter Ken Campbell, turned bureaucracy into a wardrobe-ocracy, belied the company's youth.
Shelley High School, Huddersfield, had a different kettle of fish to work with in Paul Godfrey's A Bucket of Eels. It is a semi-surreal comedy in which chaos frequently impinges on the drama of a young man who does a bunk on the night before his wedding, midsummer night's eve. Incongruities abound as a band of mismatched people converge in confusion at different times in a clearing in a forest. It was a comic, unpredictable production that got the best out of a talented company.
On Monday, Flies on the Wall from Gloucester presented a polished, eloquently staged production of Judith Jobson's Stone Moon - an exploration of the agonies of adolescence, and the traditional values which each emerging generation has to decide whether to accept or reject.
It beautifully captured a double-edged feminine solidarity which has the power to exclude and destroy or support and nurture. Fine central performances and strong ensemble playing caught the grace and lyricism of the text.
Harlow Community College adapted and pared down Harwent Bains' play as Indian Summer, about an English-born Indian boy adrift in his native land, to accommodate the various abilities of its members. The result, a balletic, dream-like interpretation, evoked, through movement and dance, the atmosphere and tensions of the play and although the layers of meaning from the original were not evident the group brought a richness and quality of their own to the work.