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Newbury Youth Theatre - Robbie Williams... Who's He?

2nd to 3rd August 2002.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Another winner on their hands!

'ROBBIE WILLIAMS... WHO'S HE?', performed by Newbury Youth Theatre, at The Corn Exchange, on Friday, August 2 and Saturday, August 3

Take a bored, ignored teenager, obsessed with fame and Robbie Williams, a dull suburban family (a cross between the Royle family and the Slaters in 'EastEnders' transported to Newbury), and a failing magazine trying to boost its circulation by running a 'Pop Babe' competition (the decline set in after the topless grannies feature bombed), and you have the plot of a cracking new comedy by Caroline Reader, presented by the senior wing of Newbury Youth Theatre.

This was Amy Trigwell's directorial debut, and what a great job she made of it: the pace never faltered, 'business' was sharp and well observed, scene links were rapid and resolute, and the music excellent (including Robbie Williams, of course, and the incomparable Ian Dury). Costume was dead on, and props pleasingly sparse but of a professional standard.

This is a seriously good, very funny play, relished by the fine young ensemble cast. Notable were Sam Hall as Jennifer, combining sensitivity with a desire to find herself; Jo McCauley, horribly accurate as Lesley-Ann, the crisis-ridden sister who married too young and has lived to regret it; and Hayley Walker an odiously patronising magazine editor. Jack de Courcy Robinson was a wonderfully cool Carlos (altogether now: 'Coo-ba!); Adrian Collier and Rachel Haynes two truly hopeless parents (her definition of being middle class being that she's been to the Oracle - twice - and can cook mince in three different ways); and Tanya Morgan a granny of few - but telling - words. David Knight as good-hearted Toby Findle Hawkins was well-meaning in a sad maths and science sort of way, and Amy Futcher suggested silent Sandra's huge intelligence, her only line a great finish to the show. My only gripe was that some poor diction and projection meant that certain lines didn't travel clearly to the audience - and they were too good to miss.

There were nods to the world of panto, with rhyming couplets uttered by Jennifer's 'fairy godfather' and the 'chorus' of reporters, and even a 'happy ending', as Jennifer finds confidence from within rather than through the externals of the media creation she has half become. She learns to recognise the value of family and real friendship, however imperfect; they learn to listen to her.

Nothing of worth comes instantly. Trite but true. With 'Pop Idol's' Will Young an instant star, this play couldn't be more topical. It makes the serious point that catapulting people to overnight fame, and becoming pawns in a media game, is a damaging pursuit.

Under their inspired artistic director Robin Strapp, Newbury Youth Theatre continues to grow and thrive. We wish them all the luck in the world as they take this play to the Edinburgh Fringe: their sixth visit. Quite a record.


and this is Robin Strapp's report from the Fringe.

From the edge

The Newbury  Youth Theatre have now arrived in Edinburgh with their show 'Robbie Williams... Who's He?' The 'advance guard' has already been there for a week taking in the shows and sussing out the competition. Director ROBIN STRAPP sends his first letter from the world's biggest Fringe Festival.

It's feisty frivolous, fun and frankly fabulous; it's Festival time in Edinburgh and the biggest celebration of the arts in the world has opened with a bang! The weather was wonderful for the Festival Cavalcade, a three-mile procession of floats, pipe bands and performers, watched by thousands of visitors and residents who applauded enthusiastically at the spectacle.

The statistics are quite staggering: there are more than 1500 performances on the Fringe alone together with the International, Jazz, Film and Book Festivals and not forgetting the Military Tattoo, which, this year, was visited by the Queen as part of her jubilee celebrations. No wonder visitors struggle to find accommodation.

Newbury Youth Theatre can be promised some exciting And challenging theatre to watch when they arrive and the competition is strong with gimmicks and stunts to sell shows becoming more bizarre each year. The 'aliens' walking down the High Street giving out free razors to advertise the 'cutting edge of comedy' caused quite a stir as they interacted with the bewildered passers-by.

Companies travel from all over the world to perform. The talented and excellent Red Chair Players from Connecticut, USA, gave a wonderfully moving and sensitive production of The Laramie Project. This heart-rending, powerful documentary drama based on the true story of the murder of a gay college student addressed the issues of a town's intolerance, fear, homophobia, and how they eventually found forgiveness. It well deserved its Scotsman Fringe First Award, one of five presented this week to the very best of new theatre on the Fringe. It was superbly acted with total commitment from its young cast of High School students, a true tour de force!

By contrast, the Norwegian National Youth Theatre presented 'Essex Girls', exploring the scandals and intrigues as three schoolgirls share their secrets in the school lavatory. Gresham Youth Theatre's energetic production of 'Our Day's Out', by Willy Russell, was presented with verve and dignity in a wonderfully-controlled performance by these confident 13-year-olds capturing the true spirit of life as members of the remedial class from a Liverpool comprehensive school on their trip of a lifetime.

The Fringe also has a major professional side much of which is based at the Assembly Rooms and the Pleasance. The hottest ticket in town is for 'Jerry Springer the Opera'. Yes it is an opera, but not as we know it! Based on the TV show with all the tragedy and violence, it's a brilliant concept and it is surely bound for London's West End.

NYT's 'Robbie Williams... Who's He?' is already selling well and who knows, perhaps a Fringe First could be heading Newbury's way?