The National Youth Theatre has been producing shows with young performers and technicians since 1956. Members of the ensemble are taking part in productions at venues large and small throughout the year and this week they are returning to the Soho Theatre with six specially commissioned new plays. Artistic director Paul Roseby tells us what to expect when his company of 16-23 year-old take over the celebrated Off-West End venue.
So the National Youth Theatre is moving into the Soho Theatre this summer with six new plays by emerging writers. You must be thrilled?
It’s ideal for new writing, isn’t it? And for the young people to take it over for four or five weeks. I can’t think of a better theatre to anarchically run.
Tell me about the plays themselves.
The main body of plays is the Soho Six Pack. Essentially you’ve got double bills each night: Tits/Teeth, Foot/Mouth and Eye/Balls. Body parts are there as a stimulus to tell a story behind a part. It’s really reflecting on the past 10 years of what young people care about and what has been going on socially and politically. Body image has been a big factor in all our lives and more and more so with young people. We think that youth have it is easy but actually even young people feel the pressure of youth.
Tits/Teeth is the first of the six. Tits is a post-feminist statement really – in the 70s women burnt their bras so that in the noughties young girls can not wear bras for other reasons. It’s about the glamorous, superficial side of that world. Teeth is the harder hitting, edgier story behind the effect that this glamour obsessed, body image obsessed world has on young people. They’re both very heart-warming funny tales as well as serious commentary.
What about Foot/Mouth?
Foot/Mouth is wonderfully dark and physical in a farcical kind of way. They’re set in the future. Foot takes on the issue of identity cards and paranoia about things that go array. And Mouth is very much about an authoritarian paranoid state that has instated a new language for people to learn that keeps them oppressed really. There’s hope at the end but it’s a very telling tale for our times in so many ways.
And the final doublebill?
Eye/Balls again really reflects what’s been going on in the past 10 years. It looks at a very bright capable student in Eye that’s at an interview situation for an art degree, and to pay for her students’ fees she gets embroiled in a love triangle in her digs where one of the professors is ruling the roost in more ways than one. Balls is where a group of lads go on a stag night and visit this club that she – the main character from Eye – is now working in. There’s a whole lot of confrontation and a lot of drama.
The issues that the NYT is addressing in these plays seem very focused on the issues affecting young people…
Yes, but I’d also say that in terms of an audience there really are issues that are probably universal and in a way I think a lot of people would probably understand no matter what the age is: I mean oppression, censorship of language, body image, paying your loans off. They’re very wittily written.
How did you go about casting the young people in these shows?
They’re from right across the UK. They’re very much part of a national ensemble of talent. We have 20 audition centres around the UK and we audition them at the beginning of the year to take part in an induction course. When they’ve done their two-week course they then become full members and they have the opportunity to audition for productions.
That must be a pretty exciting process to be part of. Soho is one of London’s top Off-West End theatres after all.
It’s a massive life-changing experience for them. They’re very large casts on that stage at Soho, so very ensemble performances with Britain’s best young talent show-casing their work. A lot of them have already got agents you know; a lot of casting agents and directors come to see this cream of talent and try and cash in on it themselves and it’s always a bit of a challenge to try and semi-protect them as well and give them advice. Because really we’re doing it for the audience, we’re not doing it for agents.
So the cast are all NYT members, but the playwrights you’ve commissioned, they’re professionals, right?
Yes, absolutely, they’re professional writers, as are the directors. Really it’s a professional show. We’re listed and critiqued alongside any other West End production.
You’ve been artistic director at the NYT for six years now – what is it about working with young artists that you find so fulfilling?
There are no boundaries. They know no fear. It’s that fearless connection with understanding the challenge and rising far above and beyond what a lot of older people would ever dream of doing. It is a complete total engagement and commitment to the story, the work, the production. It is extraordinary. The optimism that you gain from working with these young people, without baggage, without politics, is second to none, is absolutely brilliant.
And what can we expect from the NYT in the future?
We’re in Briley Hill doing a community production in two weeks’ time. We’re in Salford in October doing hip-hop Shakespeare. And of course we’re at the Arts in October doing Cymbeline as well.
We want to be in the opening ceremony in 2012. We’ve yet to have the invitation so we might just gatecrash anyway. It’s important to remember that we have such brilliant young people that are yet to know their own talent and their own opportunity. We can help them tap into that and we can help them do that and to be part of that Olympic celebration is so life-changing that it would be a shame if we couldn’t take part in that and let these young people have that opportunity.