Newbury Youth Theatre - Fairies and Dragons of the Desolate Plain
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Newbury Youth Theatre - Fairies and Dragons of the Desolate Plain

23rd July 2016 and at the Edinburgh Fringe from 8th to 13th August.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

NYT prepare to take Fringe by storm

Youth theatre previews powerful new play that considers the motivations for war

Newbury Youth Theatre: Fairies and Dragons of the Desolate Plain, at the Corn Exchange, Newbury on Saturday, July 23

This year Newbury Youth Theatre have departed from their more usual format of working up a devised production for the Edinburgh Fringe, instead performing a new play written by their co-director Tony Trigwell-Jones.

The cast, aged 14 to 17, relished their most challenging production yet, set during the First World War. The beautifully-written and thought-provoking script tackles major themes with humour and poignancy, in a production rich with magical and supernatural allusion. The idea stems from the 'Cottingley Fairies', fake black-and-white photographs of fairies produced by two Edwardian girls, which fooled many, Conan Doyle among them.

Directed by Tony and Amy Trigwell-Jones, and produced by Robin Strapp, the play centres on letters written home from the Western Front by Captain Peter Lawrenson to his daughters, Mabel and Anna. Protecting them from the reality of the slaughter, he talks of the war as battles fought between ogres, elves and sprites, likening the building of trenches to a worm writhing and tunnelling its way through the earth, and the German enemy to a baleful dragon. The war is made sense of in magical terms, the carnage tamed and neutralised.

The play shifts through time and place, from the Great War battlefields to war-time London. On a train journey, the sisters debate with members of the Ealing Youth Choir how to stop the war. With hopeful innocence, the youngsters believe that good will prevail over evil, but begin to realise that adults and governments are not always right.

Woven into the production are plaintive songs sung to flute accompaniment: There Used to be Fairies in Germany, and the evocative Great War popular song There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding. There's very effective use of puppetry and the shadow projections of childhood, and telling physicality, the cast conjuring a 350-year-old ash tree with their bodies and benches; nature's permanent witness amid the chaos of war.

We are invited to believe in another realm, a fairy world, to which Mabel is carried off in search of her captured father: "Trust me, I'm a fairy," her abductor says. In a clever court scene, the youngsters debate the certainties of science against a nebulous spirit world. Theatrically the fairy world and the real world work in parallel, throwing up binary oppositions: consciousness and the subconscious, faith and rationality fate and self- determination.

The play considers motivations for war, the meaning of patriotism, how war narratives are politically constructed, and how far populations question their leaders: issues, post-Chilcot, never more pertinent.

Does Mabel sacrifice herself to an existence in an alternative, magical world with no linear timescale to allow her father his freedom, or does she die in a London bombing raid?

Does Capt Lawrenson return home to Anna, or does she only will it? Ultimately, do we only see what we want to see?

LIN WILKINSON