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Newbury Youth Theatre - Just So

21st July 2007.

Animal magic

Newbury Youth Theatre pull another winner from the hat

Newbury Youth Theatre: Just So, at The Corn Exchange, on Saturday, July 21

Newbury Youth Theatre's fine reputation means that it has a lot to live up to, but each year this young company (aged nine to 21), headed by artistic director/producer Robin Strapp, pulls something fresh and original out of the hat for its annual production. Soon, members head off to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for the 13th successive year: a record many pros would envy.

Resident at The Corn Exchange, which provides a professional environment for its productions, this year marked a departure for the company, with its first production for children.
Just So was adapted by director Amy Trigwell-Jones (working for the second year with husband Tony Trigwell-Jones as co-director) from four of Rudyard Kipling's famous stories, How the Whale Got His Throat, The Crab that Played with the Sea, How the Camel Got its Hump and The Elephant's Child, with much of the production devised by the young people themselves.

And what a production: full of enchantment, right down to bubbles and Stardust. Played out through letters exchanged between a child and her explorer father, it was a delight from the word go.

First the Alice in Wonderland set. Just a four-poster bed, decked out in the colours and creatures of the sea, and an old-fashioned fireplace, but they spelled magic. Add the bedtime dreams of the little girl, in long Victorian nightie with bedtime candle, a narrator for each story, and we were off.

Inventive direction included excellent physicality, which characterised situations and animals, and worked as dramatic propulsion. The simple black backcloth morphed into a starry night sky; the bed into a puppet theatre; characters entered and exited via the magical fireplace.

Imaginative costuming shrieked post-modern (myriad influences from the Raj to the '30s) suggesting the nonsensical, illogical, dreamlike possibilities of childhood imagination: 'cod' beards and moustaches; flopping fish in luminous flippers, swimming hats and goggles; and a lovely bunch of red bananas ("Yuk, red bananas", said a young lad behind me).

This young company epitomises the spirit of ensemble work - this was a truly integrated production - so it seems invidious to single out any single performer. However, Tom Clarke and Daniel Morton, who wrote and performed the accompanying music, on electric drum kit and guitar/harmonica, not only looked brilliantly post-punk, but were an intrinsic part of the performance.

Yet again I salute NYT. Forget hoodies and the lost generation. This young company will restore your faith in life - and in the alchemy of theatre. They exude a huge sense of fun and togetherness, and " 'Just So', 'my best beloved' ", was a delight.