In an unusual collaboration, the Young Company of Suffolk’s New Wolsey Theatre worked with multi-disciplinary company Analogue to create a 30-minute piece of meta-theatre – Rise & Shine.
Using the experiences of 18 young actors combined with the story of a 21 year-old Pakistani man Mohammed Ayaz, who in 2001 attempted unsuccessfully to enter the UK stowed away in the undercarriage of a Boeing 777 passenger jet with tragic consequences.
Many of the autobiographical anecdotes are indeed poignant but none more so than that of Ayaz, leading several members of the audience at the so far one-off staging to ask if the plight of a Third World refugee is comparable to the respective angsts of a group of middle-class young actors. The jury remains out.
Nonetheless, Rise & Shine was acclaimed as an admirable piece of work, created and performed under difficult conditions. Working with a young cast has its own unique set of challenges, as explained by Analogue’s co-artistic director Hannah Barker.
“I think there is a tendency to approach work with younger people as being lesser than working with professionals and similarly expecting less from them, but we go into a devising room with young people with the same high expectations we do with adults. And when we do, it's amazing what you get back,” she says.
“The Young Company are a hugely competent, talented, creative and intelligent group of young people and they ran with everything we threw at them. Doing a show in five days could have been a far harder task had they not been willing to try everything, which can so often not be the case with adults.
“Their openness to experimentation meant we could tackle head on tough questions surrounding the telling of a story as big as the stowaway strand and find genuine ways they could try to empathise with a story of that nature, and consequently put that on stage.”
Rob Salmon is the New Wolsey Theatre’s associate director and runs the theatre’s creative learning department, under whose auspices the Young Company sits. He is buoyant about his team’s activities and the future for the Young Company. However, in a world where theatre vies for attention amid other activities, bringing young people into performing arts isn’t easy.
One way, he says, is to create “cool” work such as Rise & Shine, and the earlier devised work, Party Piece.
“Analogue are “cool” and Rise & Shine as a subject and a theme is relevant to young people who might want to come and watch it. So they’ll feel that theatre’s talking about them,” he says. We’ve made some other shows that are off the world and avant-garde, within the variety of what we do, I’m trying to increase the proportion”.
Do younger theatre makers have different priorities to their older counterparts? Salmon is quick to respond: “Not if they work with me, they don’t. My approach to working with young people is to take them seriously. Alongside that,” he adds, “to provide for them an environment in which they feel able to express themselves. The challenges are convincing them that that opportunity is there and convincing the outside world to take them seriously as theatre makers”.
Despite any criticism that the story of Mohammed Ayaz might be an inappropriate vehicle on which to stage Rise & Shine, the quality of the young cast’s work is undeniable. The piece may or may not have a future after its brief appearance in Suffolk but, in the words of one audience member: “with material like that, theatre’s in safe hands”.