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Newbury Youth Theatre - Of Rags and Bones

28th July 2018 and at the Edinburgh Fringe

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Look out Edinburgh…

NYT are on their way with an impressive new devised show

Newbury Youth Theatre: Of Rags and Bones, at the Corn Exchange, on Saturday July 28

Previewing their show at the Corn Exchange before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe, this year Newbury Youth Theatre have eschewed magic and fable to take an allusive – and sometimes elusive – look at love in all its forms. Something the world needs more than ever.

Actor-musicians were integral. To the sound of a plucked cello, the production opened to sleeping figures, propped against each other or sprawled across the stage, itself empty but for black cubes with lit serrations. They evoked the identical, impersonal windows of skyscrapers, bringing to mind Jacob Lawrence's paintings in his 1940s Migration Series. Each window represented an individual or family – "barn-cage hens" – heaped together in tower blocks, but often lonely and alienated.

NYT is always strong on ensemble work, but this year it was more prominent and important than ever. In an inspired opening sequence, it became clear that the mass of people on stage were those on the fringes of city life; the homeless, the dispossessed, the so-often forgotten, those living in "a place between places", under bridges and underpasses, in dark corners of the city They coalesced, dream-like, poetically, first to the sound of a dulcimer, then to a driving soundtrack.

Individual stories began to emerge. The history of a violin traces its craftsman-maker, the virtuoso who played it and a man's unrequited love for a Russian musician at the opera. A banker with his 'arrogant charm' has a loveless liaison in a hotel room; we witness the hollow sadness and disillusion of a dying marriage, the wife now a mere 'agenda item' in her husband's business life. Conventional lives continue until interrupted by a tragedy, a death, a road not taken or the glimpse of a different possibility.

Boyhood friendship is celebrated before teenage love intervenes, and so, too, is gay love. Maternal and filial love are reflected in a sequence about a deaf girl who loses her supportive mother. Her story included an inventive ensemble section showing the workings of the human ear; another grouping suggested the city cacophony she cannot hear; a vignette evoked street lamps dripping in the rain.

There was plenty of laugh-out-loud comedy, physical and verbal, and sharp, satirical comment: on materialism, on capitalism, on the endless cycle of production and consumption, on the way society is organised, on dehumanising work, on uncaring corporate agendas, and on what passes for human 'success'. Here the homeless collect the stuff other people throw away; pens, ribbons – and "credit cards, wallets and phones".

In an internet-dominated world, swamped with information and images, a quietly beautiful and imaginative final passage saw floating white feathers each represent an individual story that might otherwise be lost or remain untold. Love and mutual respect are here recovered – and celebrated.

Of Rags and Bones was devised by the company, superbly scripted by Tony Trigwell-Jones, directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones and produced by Robin Strapp. It's an impressively mature, collaborative reflection on the world we live in by this talented young company.


And a look back at Edinburgh from the Newbury Weekly News.

Stars from the Fringe

Newbury Youth Theatre have returned from Edinburgh with a clutch of top reviews for their show. Their producer Robin Strapp reports on a 'wonderful week' in which, say directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, the company members have 'grown immeasurably in ability and experience'

Newbury Youth Theatre have had a wonderful week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with their latest play Of Rags and Bones. The audiences have been truly appreciative and we have had lovely comments from them. The staff at the Quakers said it was "our best show so far" and Sue and Tony, who run the venue, were delighted with the performances.

We have received two four-star reviews with Beth Morrow from the Edinburgh Guide, saying: "It's a poignant and disconcerting show that takes a metaphorical and fantastical approach to human emotion, floating across magical realism, heartbreaking stories of loss and love, and finally tying them all together with the thread of compassion.

"The stories are told by an assemblage of displaced youths to a man dressed in business attire, who at first is condescending and snobbish, but eventually begins to listen. The scavengers and 'collectors' of discarded hopes are cleverly dressed in similar earthy tones, with personal character quirks painted on their faces. The ensemble is large and fills the small stage; the inventive choreography forms the props and scenes for the different storylines. The ensemble move as one with rhythm and physical theatrics to create scenes such as a tiring rush hour journey, carnival rides, a computer game screen, and many other stunning visual actions. The various narratives are brought to life with careful pacing and authentic performances by the cast.

"Instruments are even used by the talented performers to emphasise the spellbinding storyline. Each actor performs with passion and skill, and at every point the characters create an engaging and thought-provoking dialogue between audience and performer.

"The ebb and flow of the ensemble, tossing performers to centre stage and then pulling them back into the background, maintains the play's captivating and constant movement. In just one hour, the performance sways into mature themes with originality and honesty. The production explores stories of abrupt human truth, executed with finesse and artistry by the young performers to make for a truly beautiful performance."

Edfringe reviewer Anna Marshall in her four-star review said: "This is an excellent example of an ensemble acting to combine their individual assets for a greater good. Each is constantly contributing to and building the scene, the energy invested is relentless and rewarding. Newbury Youth Theatre proudly tears down any restrictions their youth could imply offering an insightful viewpoint of the world.

"Like rolling waves the chorus seemed to release a few actors at a time to star briefly on the surf, before being sucked back into the depths, to humbly allow another group to take over. It kept the performance fresh and engaging."

Living and working together has been tremendous fun and the cast have become very close as a company, cementing their friendships. They have enjoyed the independence of living away from home and cooking their own food in the flats and looking after each other. Some of the cast assembled at 7.30am for the 12k run up Arthur's Seat to its rocky summit with magnificent views over the city.

At the morning briefing meeting, notes were given to tweak the show, while Niamh Jones and Toby Quinn applied the individual make-up and the cast shared their good show/bad show experiences as they planned their evening's entertainment.

They managed to give away 10,000 fliers on the Royal Mile and entertained the vast crowds with songs and dances from the show The have been interviewed by a local radio programme and filmed for ITV as well as engaging with the Blue Peter team.

Directors Tony and Amy Trigwell-Jones told me: "maybe what brings us back to working with young people in theatre is not so much the product (or in our case, productions) but in the process of facilitating them in developing their professional, social and life skills. To that end, this year has been an exceptional one, with company members growing immeasurably in ability and experience. The fact that critics have described Of Rags and Bones as "a truly beautiful performance" (Edinburgh Guide) and recognised that "Newbury Youth Theatre proudly tears down any restrictions their youth could imply" (EdfringeReview) is testament to their achievements this year."

Sadly, we have to say goodbye to several of our members who are moving on to the next stage of their life. We are recruiting members for next year and if you would like to join this award-winning company and enjoy our weekly workshops, and perhaps travel with us next year to perform in Edinburgh, please do go to our website and complete an application form.

Newbury Youth Theatre have now arrived back home with some great memories of their experiences in Edinburgh.