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Newbury Youth Theatre - Cautionary Tales

31st July 2010.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Vital and infectious

Newbury Youth Theatre: Cautionary Tales for Children, at the Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, July 31

Newbury Youth Theatre once again gave their annual warm-up performance for the Edinburgh Fringe at the Corn Exchange, where they are resident.

The young actors benefit hugely from performing in a professional space under professional conditions, but they repay the privilege tenfold. They do the venue proud.

This year they have devised a mischievous quasi-modern take on Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children, interspersing the Victorian verse format with demotic speech: a foot in the original with a nod to today's world.

It's 1892 and a bench of didactic judges from the Ministry of Child Correction are determined to get "dangerous oiks off the street and into work". So what's new?

Wrongdoers are hauled into the dock to confess their bad behaviour and explain the consequences. Matilda -an enormous scarlet bow in her hair - tells lies, so no one believed her when she shouted "Fire!"

Mary Bunch, "who likes to munch", is a compulsive eater. "Henry Ring ate bits of string" - and died - but not before a horde of fee-seeking doctors try to cure him.

Charles Augustus Fortescue, "the nicest child I ever knew", only did what was right - and became filthy rich in the process. The story of Rose, "who hid things up her nose", prompted a comedic tug of war by an increasingly unlikely team.

Thus morality tales are told and lessons learned, but they're seldom as much fun as this. Within the Youth Theatre's customary blend of ensemble work, physical theatre, music and song, each actor played multiple parts, ingenious costume changes were woven into the performance, and clever characterisation was allied to inventive staging. The lion that ate poor Jim was magicked by actors working with just a ruffed sheet and a tail; imaginative group work conjured the early days of motoring; and the Battle of Waterloo was over in record time.

The strikingly cohesive black and white design, an important element in this integrated production, encompassed set, props, make-up and costume, with boys in black Victorian suits and hose, and girls in white pinafores over black dresses.

The professional expertise and actor-centred approach of directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones and artistic director/producer Robin Strapp continue to attract talented young performers to the Youth Theatre and coax excellent performances from them.

This young company is always professional, but the fun and enjoyment its members also share is vital - and infectious.