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Fresh Young Writers, Tattered Old Seats

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The Royal Court's Young Writers' Programme has been running a series of writing workshops for local schoolchildren supported by the John Lyon's Charity, and the theatre hosted a showcase of their short plays on Saturday morning.

I'm an adviser to the JLC, and was keen to see the end result of the workshops run by dramatist Nick Payne and other Court personnel, so I cried off shopping and other Saturday morning duties and made my way to Sloane Square, where the young writers - aged between eight and 11 years - with their friends and parents filed into the stalls.

Director Simon Godwin - who's busy filling in as Dominic Cooke's deputy at the moment - had assembled a remarkable group of actors to perform the plays, scripts in hand, on the grey neutrality of the set for April De Angelis' Jumpy.

Have you wondered what the decrepit old fall-over funny waiter in One Man, Two Guvnors, really looks like? Now we know, or at least I do, as Tom Edden - for it is he - shared the performing duties with Helen Schlesinger, Shannon Tarbet (who made such a terrific debut in Anya Reiss's Spur of the Moment), Adomiwa Edun, Tom Godwin (no relation to Simon; he played Bumblehole the elf in last Christmas's Get Santa! on this stage), Isabella Laughland and Colin Mace.

The performance proved many things, not least that you don't necessarily need adults to write children's theatre. The gap between what I had witnessed in the workshops and what I saw on the stage was remarkable; progress had been made, writing sharpened, ideas developed.

One theme was the persistent yearning after domestic reconciliation in broken families. But there were gems, too, of idiomatic expression, the fantasy world of vampires and zombies, rivalry at sports day saved by an act of kindness, and squabbling siblings.

Two sketches stood out: one about a human free newspaper - embodied by a bug-eyed, shaven-headed Edden - picked up on a train, dispensed with, taken home by someone else, then consigned to a rubbish bin, was hilarious; another about a girl finding a diamond flower near a singing tree with a yapping dog both imaginative and charming. 

There's another programme next Saturday morning, which I wouldn't miss for the world, and some of the other plays will be included in the Young Writers Festival next February.

The YWP has long been a part of the English Stage Company's remit, and this slew of work plugs into the whole operation, with Cooke and his associates getting fully involved in the script sessions and discussions.

As Simon Godwin said by way of an introduction, addressing the young writers: "At this theatre we only do new plays, so keep writing: we'll need your contributions over the coming years."

Lounging in the Court's comfortable brown leather seats took me back to the experience of sitting in the Cottesloe earlier last week for John Hodge's Collaborators. The seating has been reconfigured when it really needed to be re-upholstered.

If I ran the National Theatre, I'd be ashamed to invite my audience into the place to occupy these tattered pop-up apologies for seating. I'm one of the few trim-buttocked members of the Critics Circle, but even I was struggling, and I was fortunate to be sat on the end of a row, so I could stretch and adjust without disturbing anyone else.

Customers and critics with lard-like posteriors must dread the Cottesloe, and avoid it where possible, but it's not often that the play itself is as much of a trial, and certainly not Collaborators.

Let's hope the NT come up with some new seating before too long; perhaps in time for a festival of young writers just starting out at the Royal Court and soon to catch up with their experienced elders and betters, such as 18 year-old Anya Reiss.


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