Inspired by the short stories of Anais Nin, NYT present new fables of modern love and ritual. On the night bus, on the last train, amongst the detritus of deserted pubs and clubs and in the secret corners of the city, pickpocket poets steal the stories of the lost.
We returned to devising a new show for 2018, but in a departure from previous years, Of Rags and Bones is not explicitly for children – though there will be nothing particularly offensive, so should be fine for young adults.
The result was a mature and affecting portmanteau production on love and loss, which was praised by public and press alike.
Newbury Weekly News
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.
Of Rags and Bones is a poignant and disconcerting show performed and devised by Newbury Youth Theatre. Based off of the collection of short stories Under a Glass Bell by Anais Nin, the play 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, creatively using giant boxes with fairy lights as their movable platform. Directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones, 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 plays captivating and constant movement.
As one of the performers says, this is a “place between places”. 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.
Of Rags and Bones is a heart-warming but also faintly unsettling tale – or, rather, a series of tales, of which more in a moment. The narration is provided by a group of waifs and strays living on the edges of a city, scavengers of food, clothes; but also collectors of the hopes, dreams and ambitions that the rest of us consume, or use only inexpertly, and then casually discard.
The various narratives describe failed or damaged emotional relationships which have left some kind of scar but also some kind of hope. Tales of disability, misplaced love, the problems of others and teenage rivalries: these are the experiences the rag and bones people gather, store, treasure and – in the right circumstances – offer to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see the wisdom they contain.
Each of the four stories wraps into the overarching theme in a way which, if not at the time immediately obvious, is at the end highly satisfying. They are told to one character, a man very different in attire and attitude from them, who is at first patronising and dismissive of the tales unfolding around him but is by the end desperate to immerse himself in them (although we suspect that he never will be able to). The overall effect is one of a well-constructed poignancy. Yes, there are ambiguities, but none that detract: indeed, these make the connections somehow more real, and so more effective. In life, we can rarely understand all the links between the different but related events we experience but we don’t as a result dismiss them. In time, these often become clearer. So it is here.
As with all the NYT shows, this was devised by the cast under the guidance of two experienced directors. This approach has resulted in an impressive range of performances with each scene seeming to flow naturally from within the actors. At no point did it sag and at no point was I aware of any deficiencies in the ambition or the execution. Many of the cast are accomplished musicians and a range of instruments was used to underline aspects of the narrative to great effect.
The NYT has always been renowned for the quality of its visual theatrics. Even for someone who didn’t understand a word of English, the ensemble effects would be stunning. A rush-hour journey, an airport departure hall, a computer game and the explanation of the workings of the human ear were just four of the themes that were acted out with superb style and no little humour.
The show runs for just under an hour. I would have been happy were it to have been twice the length. Inspiration, execution, humour and musicianship all combined to make this a truly wonderful performance. Catch it if you can…
EdFringe Review ****
“If I speak louder can you read my lips? Well it’s not that hard!” shouts an ostentatiously entitled chorus projecting at a young deaf girl, who silently darts her lonely way around the stage in a ballet-like sequence. A young man sings out a self-penned acoustic guitar song as the others swirl around him; there’s a heartwarming bromance that demonstrates an intriguing game involving biting bananas; and we meet a young mad hatter-type character named Feathers who grabs our attention for some tenderly fairytale scenes. ‘Of Rags and Bones’ 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, so that despite there only being a few ‘leads’ at a time, the energy invested is relentless and rewarding. Newbury Youth Theatre proudly tears down any restrictions their youth could imply: ‘Of Rags and Bones’ offers an insightful viewpoint of the world.
The plotline does conform to some standard amateur dramatics devices, loosely linking many small but distinct stories. The tales of Anais Nin have been revitalised to tell some morally ambiguous and sometimes simplistic narratives. The cast are dressed simply to allow for easy multiroling: yet their earthy colour scheme and cropped trousers do somewhat resemble a herd of hobbits rather than a homeless gang. And in light of the current homelessness epidemic, perhaps it seems less thoughtful to depict a romanticised and lovably Bohemian underclass – haven’t we moved on since Dickens?
The custom tailoring of this play to suit their young actors is demonstrated from the offset, with impressive musical interludes from various members of the young cast. This is done with subtlety and only when needed: it enhances rare moments, and hints at only the tip of a talent iceberg. The large company move together to create bustling crowds or detailed rooms, or vanish entirely from view, whilst remaining on stage throughout. Like rolling waves, the chorus seemed to release a few actors at a time to star briefly in the surf, before being sucked back into the depths, to humbly allow another group to take over. It kept the performance fresh and engaging.