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Newbury Youth Theatre - Cautionary Tales

25th July 2015 and at the Edinburgh Fringe from 10th to 15th August.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Caution to the wind

Newbury Youth Theatre's imagination, infectious energy and exuberance produces another winner for the Edinburgh Fringe

Newbury Youth Theatre: Cautionary Tales, at the Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, July 25

Heading for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for an astonishing 18th consecutive year, Newbury Youth Theatre previewed their new show at the Corn Exchange.

Revisiting Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales, this young company of 14 to 19-year-olds showed an infectious, energetic and exuberant delight in their newly-devised production. Each year the composition of the young company necessarily changes, so every production has a freshness and an injection of new ideas.

It's 1892 and barefoot children considered miscreants are being brought before three bewhiskered and top-hatted judges in a Victorian House of Correction (more than shades of the workhouse in Dickens' Oliver Twist about it). The judges are determined to make them work for their keep and learn from their mistakes. It's time for austerity and moralising: George Osborne would surely approve.

The strength of the production lies in the imagination of the young cast, which ignites the imagination of their audience. As always, this year's company, under artistic director Robin Strapp and directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, played to the Youth Theatre's strengths: open access, no auditions, just a core belief in enabling youthful creativity to flourish. The result is strong, supportive ensemble work, inspired comedic elements, all performed with verve, physicality and inventive movement and groupings. Watching the talent of this young company, and their joy in their work, does the heart good.

The 'black box' set with few, but telling, multi-functional props, was echoed by costuming; boys in black suits, girls in black dresses with white pinafores, all with chalk-white faces. Specially-written music was used sparingly but meaningfully (the sad strains of the accordion as the audience entered said all that was needed about the reality of Victorian poverty), with new songs written by the cast for the production.

So the stories unfold. Among them, Jim ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion; brilliantly evoked animals here and a less than zealous nurse. Clearly this was not the first such casualty the zoo had suffered. Matilda's lies result in her being burnt to death; who was going to believe her when she said her house was on fire? The fire brigade were hardly efficient, but we loved their song and the pastiche of a Victorian melodrama. At least her aunt missed her. Henry King chewed string till it knotted his insides and he expired. Rebecca, a banker's daughter, 'an aggravating child', was always slamming doors; she was felled by a toppled bust of Beethoven. And two new stories: Sandra Fair wouldn't cut her hair, but did occasion an enjoyable ukulele and guitar 'spoken song', Don't Fear the Barber. Christian Manners refused to sit at table and ate no vegetables; his bones grew weak and he turned to ashes. Set against these 'urchins' was shining light Charles Augustus Fortescue, who by 'simply doing right' gained a huge fortune. What a prig...

Lessons were learned, with the final witty song, We Have Been Corrected, telling us that 'it's so much fun being good'. I couldn't help feeling this was tongue in cheek; the children were so much more fun when they were bad.


There's a review from SG Fringe ("brought to sparkling life by the multi-talented members of the Newbury Youth Theatre, who have once again brought a ‘must see’ show to the Fringe... an extraordinarily well-disciplined and well-rehearsed performance which had the audience in stitches and earned them loud and prolonged applause" - 4 stars).