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Newbury Youth Theatre - The Wind Tamer

26th July 2008.

Company keep up their record

Different subject matter, same standard of production

Newbury Youth Theatre Edinburgh preview: The Wind Tamer, at The Com Exchange, on Saturday, July 26

Newbury Youth Theatre, now in its 25th year, earned its fine reputation by staging issue-based plays, but this year's production - as last's - has taken a more magical theme.

Adapted from P. R. Morrison's novel, originally written as a bedtime story for her children, The Wind Tamer is the Youth Theatre's first full book adaptation - and the first time the author's work has been staged.

Ten-year-old Archie Stringweed and his family are cursed: all first-born sons are fearful of the world. Prompted by inexplicable birthday presents which arrive each year from Archie's long-lost Uncle Rufus, Archie eventually takes on evil winds and a terrifying tornado to break the curse.

As the drama unfolds, his over-protective parents find their strength too.

Set in the present, the production references the Second World War - an inspired approach, not only because the period is far enough away to be of consuming interest to the current generation but, since it was a time in which ordinary people were called upon to do extraordinary things and display uncommon courage, it fits perfectly with the play's theme.

Good triumphs over evil, bravery defeats bullying, fear is exposed as a self-perpetuating dead end. Archie learns that in extremis people help one another and that we are stronger together than alone.

Uncle Rufus, resplendent in flying jacket, Biggles helmet and goggles, was played splendidly in period and, with spot-on timing by George Collins, who had the clipped RAF voice down to a tee, his 1939 Cessna inventively suggested by a propeller-bearing umbrella. Chief ice gull (Georgia Scarr), commanding her sexy squadron of WAAF gulls, was a dead ringer for Lee Miller.

Callum Battersby's Archie was a touching characterisation. With his friends Georgina (Katie Wheeler) and Sid (Ronan Hatfull), he was a perplexed child, growing in awareness when his father, Jeffrey (Matthew Hodgkin), intimates something of the family secret.

An ensemble approach, with movement and physicality, are Youth Theatre strengths, the latter especially effective in the black, wraithlike figures of the wind, with their elongated white masks and ghostly faces.

The production again included original music, played by Daniel Morton, Clarisse Loughrey and Rachael Brooks. Haunting and sometimes eerie, it gave the production an added dimension.

Adapted and smartly directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, The Wind Tamer is atmospherically lit, with strong effects.

It features superb costuming by Rhia Whitnell and a very clever set designed by Jim Patterson.

A central revolving stair with a faux rising balustrade suggested upstairs and downstairs, the family home and the world outside, the mental and physical space between the forces of evil and the family battling against them.

Once again, the Youth Theatre is heading for the Edinburgh Fringe - for its 13th consecutive year. There can be very few young theatre groups in the country with such a fantastic record.

The fact that there are no auditions or membership restrictions makes its achievements even more extraordinary.