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Newbury Youth Theatre - Wizard of Winterbourne

27th July 2019 and at the Edinburgh Fringe

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Next stop Edinburgh

Newbury Youth Theatre's vibrant young company preview Fringe show

Newbury Youth Theatre: The Wizard of Winterbourne, at the Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, July 27

Newbury Youth Theatre's annual performance is this year based on 19th-century stories about Boxford's John Palmer, found in a book of Berkshire legends by NYT writers/directors Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones.

In the parlance of the time, Palmer was a "Cunning Man" who lived by his wits, but he was considered to have magical powers, so was called a "wizard".

Here were all the hallmarks of NYT: a performance devised over three months by talented youngsters aged from 15 to 17.

Working collaboratively, with energy, exuberance and obvious relish, comedy and fun are allied to creative invention, in both dialogue and physicality.

Members use a variety of performative techniques and styles to conjure creative scenes and images, ensemble groupings and movement.

There's tellingly minimal staging – little more than Palmer's cart and a 'dressing-up box' at the back of the stage – with three original songs, written, sung and played by company members, punctuating the performance. With young performers, there is always a balance to be struck between energy and pace, and clarity and projection of speech, and dialogue was sometimes difficult to catch.

All the fun of the Boxford Fair topped and tailed the show: a fortune teller, tug-of-war, ferret racing, and games including splat the rat, dowsing a poor soul in the stocks, or trying to win a goose.

We follow Palmer as he makes the silent bells of Welford Church ring again (too often and too loudly for his liking), and deals with a haunted house, a process that involved several trips to the smith at Newbury Market to buy a very long, strong, length of chain.

The smith was a woman, a nice contemporary feminist touch.

Palmer cons money from a naive vicar; finds a herd of missing cows; casts a suspect love charm; and is called in to deal with thieves who are terrorising Winterbourne with the gruesome "Hand of Glory", taken from a man hung from the gallows tree.

De-breeching was (literally) the punishment for misdemeanours by the wizard or villagers, though being a family show, the victims always have another pair underneath.

Palmer's influence appeared to extend into the 20th century with a series of unexplained accidents in 1963, on the newly-built M4 motorway, where the 'Palmer Post' had stood.

NYT take the performance to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next week, as it has done under its founder and producer Robin Strapp for more than 34 years, a proud record for a vibrant 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.