Just So 2012

Five years after our original production of Kipling’s Just So stories, we felt it was time to dust off those we adapted previously and one or two we didn’t in a brand new production that, following our success in 2011, proved to be another big hit.

This came to a climax when we were given our second award, a Broadway Baby BOBBY.

Cast: Amy Scarrett, Cara Dunn-Gibson, Tom Hamblin, Immie Brown, James Schofield, Jenny Jones, John Creed, Katherine Tweed, Lauren Hopes, Martha Minall, Philippa Jeffries, Tom Serruya, Sian Jenkins.

Broadway Baby

How The Show Got Its Stars

Chances are you know Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ already but you’ve probably never been told those stories quite like this before. Newbury Youth Theatre are a lively, inventive group who tell the classic stories, such as ‘How The Camel Got His Hump’ and ‘The Elephant’s Child,’ in a way which is joyful to watch. These aren’t the kind of stories to send children to sleep, they’re the kind that will keep them up all night asking for more.

Before the stories begin, the cast lie asleep, lounging in huge suitcases, dressed like explorers, all mud-faced and dressed in knee-high socks. The quiet doesn’t last very long before someone rings a loud bell to wake everyone up. It’s time for a story. From the moment the cast first lined-up to introduce themselves, gleefully shouting their favourite things, it was clear that this group are natural entertainers. When one member of the ensemble yells ‘In the beginning!’ it recalled perfectly that initial excitement before the reading of a bedtime story.

Every giant suitcase opened marked another story to tell, each conveyed as cleverly as the one before. It’s not the stories themselves but the way they were told that makes this such riotous good fun. The cast said every single word like it mattered and as ridiculously and loudly as they could. They’re an energetic, chaotic bunch, almost fighting to tell the stories but never overpowering one another. They used their bodies to illustrate the tales too: stretching themselves like the tall giraffe or giving a great big ‘humph’ like the camel. Their energy was incredible, it’s rare to see such a big ensemble working so well together to tell the story. It’s also impossible to pick out one member’s performance as standout, as they were all so fantastic and it was the combined voices that made these stories come to life.

Their facial expressions and mannerisms are hysterical; if you can, sit near the front. It’s worth it to see such silly and carefree acting. This cast didn’t even need to rely on audience interaction because the way they told the stories was more than enough to captivate the audience. The songs are also gloriously good fun and the puppets and props used throughout were always used in surprisingly inventive ways.

This is exciting and vibrant storytelling which invests new life into the old stories. No matter what age you are, you’ll want this group to tell you bedtime stories

Newbury Weekly News

Such is Newbury Youth Theatre’s enviable reputation at the Edinburgh Festival – they have performed there for 15 years – that their advance ticket sales this year are the best ever.

Their preview performance of this year’s show, Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, a subject they first visited in 2007, took place at the Corn Exchange, where they are the resident youth theatre company. The production, adapted and directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, and devised by the company, shows all NYT’s hallmarks: imaginative ensemble work, high energy, physicality interwoven music and touches of magical invention.

NYT members also make up the vital production team, working alongside artistic director/producer Robin Strapp.

The stage area was a sprawl of old suitcases and slumbering youngsters. Dressed in tropical kit – beige shorts and shirts, long socks and boots – like colonials from Kipling’s time, they also put one in mind of contemporary InterRailers who’ve been travelling too long, grabbing a kip in a foreign railway station. Each of the four chosen stories was a stage on their travels. The first, How the Camel Got His Hump, opened with some inspired “business” – peremptory tropical ablutions – not for the fastidious. The “world was new”, the camel won’t work, and there’s a “palaver” and “a pow-wow”.

The eponymous beast in The Elephant’s Child, which explains how the elephant got his trunk, was evoked, entirely convincingly, out of nothing more than a cleverly twisted grey cloth. Creative ensemble work, delivered with verve and energy, supported and drove the narrative, the animal characters conjured with lively physicality. Such exuberance occasionally takes the edge off diction and audibility. Slowing the pace just a touch, without affecting the impulsion of the performance, would fine-tune the production.

How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin – the result of a surfeit of cake crumbs – saw a palm tree rise brilliantly from a suitcase: astonishing what you can realise with simple materials. This story featured some of the best ensemble work I’ve seen from the company, with enjoyable stagecraft and ingenious movement and groupings.

How the Whale Got His Throat featured some individual cameos, eye-searing fluorescent diving gear, and delicately-lit blown bubbles, so evocative of childhood. The whale swallowed a mariner who, being “a man of infinite resource and sagacity”, not only escaped but was responsible for the whale ever after only being able to eat small fish.

Each story ended with a devised song, performed to acoustic guitar accompaniment. The Elephant‘s had a ‘cowboy’ feel. The Whale‘s, with a stand-out number so catchy it was reprised for the finale, saw the cast concocting a ship on a rolling ocean, so ‘real’ you began to feel seasick.

The production positively zipped along, crackling with energy and an infectious sense of enjoyment. This young ensemble are clearly a happy and committed company, who own this show. Standby, Edinburgh. They’re on their way.

LIN WILKINSON

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