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Newbury Youth Theatre - The Control Experiment

25th to 26th July 2003, at the Corn Exchange.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Edinburgh here we come

Newbury Youth Theatre: The Control Experiment, at The Corn Exchange, on Friday, July 25 and Saturday, July 26

Newbury Youth Theatre, now with three companies (ages nine-12; 12-14 and 14-20), all resident at The Corn Exchange, has a fine reputation for issue-based contemporary drama relevant to its members. The senior company, with 75 per cent new blood, is currently looking at Attention Deficiency Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

This latest piece, newly-devised by Amy Trigwell with the company (her second directorial role with the youth theatre), followed interest members had shown in a piece on ADHD written for The Hurst Community School by its head of drama, Robin Strapp, the youth theatre's artistic director. The resulting piece of theatre considers what ADHD is, how it manifests itself, how it is 'controlled', and the effects it has upon the lives of those considered to be 'suffering' from it.

Featuring insightful but sassy portrayals by Hana Griffin and Laura Hewitt respectively as the younger and older Steph, this was, however, a real ensemble piece, the whole much stronger than the sum of its parts. The company worked intelligently and sympathetically together, producing some strongly physical tableaux and plenty of humour, as Steph told the story of her life from childhood onwards: always feeling different, never fitting in, hating school and its rules and work and its structures, her life dominated by what she accepted as her difficult personality - 'unstoppable, uncontrollable', 'always on the move'. By adolescence she was referred to a school counsellor and doctor and prescribed the controversial drug Ritalin, a 'downer' which knocked her out. She preferred to sell it at school.

Care, from parents to society, becomes control, but, post therapy, it takes the oblique advice of a gypsy woman, another outsider, to enable Steph to see that though she is different, this difference is not necessarily bad. Her self-image depends upon how she reacts to her own personality and the view others have of her. She sets out on a long personal journey towards self-acceptance. Let Steph have the last word: "Everyone's running 'the social experiment'; you just need to work out how to use it for yourself. The journey's sometimes sad, but the destination will be very sweet."

Design and costume (T-shirts and trousers) were spare and striking. Pale, vertical overlapping banners shielded a central lit door through which the young Steph initially burst onto the stage, and teenage argot and music were spot on.

With this production another Youth Theatre tradition is continued, as the company heads for the Edinburgh Fringe next week: the seventh consecutive year they will have performed there. It's a fantastic record.