Newbury Youth Theatre - Just So Stories
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Newbury Youth Theatre - Just So Stories

28th July 2012 and at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Just so for the festival

With this show, youth theatre look set to shine again in Edinburgh

Just So Stories, at the Corn Exchange, on Saturday, July 28

Such is Newbury Youth Theatre's enviable reputation at the Edinburgh Festival - they have performed there for 15 years - that their advance ticket sales this year are the best ever.

Their preview performance of this year's show, Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, a subject they first visited in 2007, took place at the Corn Exchange, where they are the resident youth theatre company. The production, adapted and directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, and devised by the company, shows all NYT's hallmarks: imaginative ensemble work, high energy, physicality interwoven music and touches of magical invention.

NYT members also make up the vital production team, working alongside artistic director/producer Robin Strapp.

The stage area was a sprawl of old suitcases and slumbering youngsters. Dressed in tropical kit - beige shorts and shirts, long socks and boots - like colonials from Kipling's time, they also put one in mind of contemporary InterRailers who've been travelling too long, grabbing a kip in a foreign railway station. Each of the four chosen stories was a stage on their travels. The first, How the Camel Got His Hump, opened with some inspired "business" - peremptory tropical ablutions - not for the fastidious. The "world was new", the camel won't work, and there's a "palaver" and "a pow-wow".

The eponymous beast in The Elephant's Child, which explains how the elephant got his trunk, was evoked, entirely convincingly, out of nothing more than a cleverly twisted grey cloth. Creative ensemble work, delivered with verve and energy, supported and drove the narrative, the animal characters conjured with lively physicality. Such exuberance occasionally takes the edge off diction and audibility. Slowing the pace just a touch, without affecting the impulsion of the performance, would fine-tune the production.

How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin - the result of a surfeit of cake crumbs - saw a palm tree rise brilliantly from a suitcase: astonishing what you can realise with simple materials. This story featured some of the best ensemble work I've seen from the company, with enjoyable stagecraft and ingenious movement and groupings.

How the Whale Got His Throat featured some individual cameos, eye-searing fluorescent diving gear, and delicately-lit blown bubbles, so evocative of childhood. The whale swallowed a mariner who, being "a man of infinite resource and sagacity", not only escaped but was responsible for the whale ever after only being able to eat small fish.

Each story ended with a devised song, performed to acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Elephant's had a 'cowboy' feel. The Whale's, with a stand-out number so catchy it was reprised for the finale, saw the cast concocting a ship on a rolling ocean, so 'real' you began to feel seasick.

The production positively zipped along, crackling with energy and an infectious sense of enjoyment. This young ensemble are clearly a happy and committed company, who own this show. Standby, Edinburgh. They're on their way.

LIN WILKINSON