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Get To Know The National Youth Theatre

27 October 2017 by Emily Moulder
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Did you know that you can buy tickets to see incredible plays by the next generation of performers in a West End theatre? That’s what it means to see a National Youth Theatre show. Right now, you can see a modern-day Othello and a thrilling new adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde, performed by the The National Youth Theatre REP Company, at the Ambassadors Theatre.

You might have heard of the NYT but in case you’re not in the loop, we’re going to catch you up.

Founded in 1956, the National Youth Theatre was the first of its kind in the world! It gave young performers and theatre technicians the chance to get West End stage time and valuable learning experiences, as well as allowing audiences to get a first look at the stars of tomorrow. Who were those stars? Oh, just Dame Helen Mirren, Colin Firth, Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Cranham, Sir Ben Kingsley and so many more!

Helen Mirren starring as Cleopatra in the NYT production at the Old Vic in 1965. Photo Credit: National Youth Theatre

Started by Michael Croft, the NYT has grown through the decades from producing all-male shows to accepting women in the early 60s. It was just in time too; an 18-year-old Helen Mirren made waves when she starred as Cleopatra in an NYT production at the Old Vic in 1965. From a small but impressive start, the National Youth Theatre grew and grew over the decades and now is considered by to be a bit of a star-maker.

It’s hard to argue when, even in more recent years, they boast such alums as Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Taron Egerton (Kingsman), Zawe Ashton (Fresh Meat) and Kate Winslet (if we have to tell you…). But it’s not just the stars who have passed through their doors that attracts attention, it’s how the school operates and why that’s the cool part. They are able to nurture these incredible actors through the training and courses that they offer.

To reach as many communities as they can, the NYT hold auditions in 30 different locations across the UK and they see roughly 5,000 people for just 500 places. They offer a variety of courses, some paid, some free and they also offer bursaries to support students who may need them. Here’s what Sam Evans, a recipient of one of the bursaries had to say about his experience with the National Youth Theatre, “When I saw our play being performed on the Arcola stage I felt as if the journey, the students’ voices and my writing had all worked so well together in showcasing them as actors and also as young people with powerful voices. For me this journey was a tough one as a writer but it always was supported by the team and it was all worth it in the end to create such a beautiful piece.”

Photo Credit: The National Youth Theatre

Right now, you can see the NYT’s production of Othello, which has garnered critical acclaim for its bold take on Shakespeare’s story of jealousy and revenge. The Stage gave a glowing review of the show, “The large ensemble tackle both the Shakespearean dialogue and the challenging physicality with great energy and precision. Mohammed Mansaray is a warm and gentle Othello, uncomfortable with the violent world he is immersed in. Beside him, Jamie Rose’s impressive Iago is flippant and outwardly gregarious, slipping in filthy looks and self-satisfied sneers when no one is looking.”

Meanwhile, Jekyll and Hyde plays with gender, introducing a female Dr. Jekyll into a show where famously women are sidelined. WhatsOnStage praised the production, “Modernity bleeds through into the Victorian world, and audience assumptions are slowly turned on their heads. It is an intense, exciting piece of work and a bold step forward for the writer, whose previous work includes Consensual, also with the NYT.”

If you’re a performing arts student or love discovering new theatre stars, find out more about the National Youth Theatre here.

Want more? Interview: Heisenberg Star Kenneth Cranham.

Cover Photo Credit: Helen Murray

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