Yesterday to Basingstoke (not as far as it sounds) to see a production of The Things She Sees, a stage adaptation by Ben Power of a short novel I wrote several years ago (and never found a publisher for). This is part of the National Theatre New Connections programme I posted about sometime late last year: twelve new plays commissioned by the NT for performance by some 200 youth groups (schools, FE colleges, amateur groups). Two or three performances of each production at their home places are followed by a performance at a regional professional theatre (the Lyceum in Edinburgh, the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, the Hampstead Theatre in London, etc); one production of each play will then show at the NT in London in July.
Assuming around 20 people involved in each production, that’s 4,000 people now acting, directing and getting butterflies in their tummies before the writers and the overseeing folk from the NT come along to see the performances. There are similar schemes running in Italy, Portugal, Norway, Brazil. Last week I watched 13-year-olds in a school hall in Essex; last night I watched 16-year-olds in a studio theatre in Basingstoke. The NT director I was with told me of another production he saw last week – organised by a 16-year-old whose school refused support so he borrowed money, got his own group together and hired a theatre at the end of a pier.
Afterwards, when chairs are dragged into a rough circle, all the energy that’s been packed tight into the 45 minutes of performance spills out in chat, laughter, relief, excitement, amazement at what they’ve they just done. So, says the man from the NT, what can we do to make it even better next time? Suggestions tumble out. The whole thing is a process in which people are coming together and learning and doing and growing and having what looks like a whole lot of fun at the same time, and I’m awestruck.