Wednesday, 16 April 2008


Here is the show report from Martin Constantine ( National Theatre )

Show Report 2008


Company St Mary's Youth Theatre

Play Burying Your Brother In The Pavement

Director Steve Archdale

Partnership Theatre Stephen Joseph Theatre

Show reporter Martin Constantine


There were forty five performers in the company, aged from seven to twenty. They are all members of the St Mary's Youth Theatre which produces musicals every year and has taken part in National Theatre Connections since 1995. For many of the performers it was their first production with St Mary's and for a number it was their first experience of taking leading roles. The company are led and supported by a dedicated team of adults who direct, design, choreograph, prop and light the shows.
The administration of the company is excellent. This was the second performance of two.


The venue was Green Lane School which is St Mary's temporary home. The play was staged in the school hall, end on, and held an audience of about one hundred. The venue was almost full to capacity.


The company were given extracts of the play to audition from. The casting was incredibly well chosen. Special mention must go to Clem Abbott playing Tom. This part essentially carries the play and from the moment Clem flicked the torch on in the opening scene it was clear we were in safe hands. Clem was engaging, funny and able to convey the full range of the characters' emotional range. Importantly he kept the pace of the production moving forward at all times. He was well supported by the rest of the cast - the family unit of Tom, Luke (Ryan Bray) and Courtney (Katie Wilkinson) were particularly well cast together.


The company rehearsed three times a week after school from January through to performance. It was clear from discussion with the cast that the process was entirely collaborative. They workshopped many ideas at the beginning of the process, often in smaller groups, and this work was then shared with the whole group; the moments that worked were then selected for the production. The company said that this process made them feel a great sense of ownership. The company also had a very strong grasp of the themes and issues in the play. They had discussed these issues as they arose in rehearsals. In the after show discussion I found the group incredibly mature and impressive in their ability to express their thoughts and feelings about the play; it was obvious they had thought deeply about the issues the play raises.


The staging was kept relatively simple and this allowed for clear, direct storytelling. For most of the performance the action was focused on the bench in the Tunstall Estate.
The opportunity to involve the entire company was taken in the songs and set pieces such as the Marble Competition - these were smartly choreographed and made good use of the large numbers on stage. If groups worked together they were always following their own story - supporting the main action and not distracting.
The movement between scenes was often particularly well choreographed - one transition that particularly established the convention for this was Courtney exiting backwards in her search for Tom whilst the hoodies from the Tunstall estate entered to the same beat. These transitions were smoothly worked and meant that the action was propelled forward.


I felt the tone of the piece exactly matched the intentions of the playwright. There was no over elaboration; only what the text demanded. This allowed the story to flow at good pace. It also meant that where the play was meant to be funny, it genuinely was, and, where it was necessary to establish a more sombre tone, the company succeeded. A couple of changes were made to the script; Martin became Martine and we enjoyed brief impressions of Columbo and Dennis Waterman.
In many ways the great challenge of this piece incorporating the character Luke, who is ever present, and yet, doesn't speak a great deal of text. This was managed by giving Luke the same access to directly address the audience, through eye contact, as Tom had. It allowed the audience to grow to understand this character at the same time as Tom did. It was a brave decision but one that the production and performer pulled off.


The real merit of this production was the actors’ performances. The company were led impressively by Clem Abbott who imbued every line with a clear sense of meaning and had a warmth and openness in the direct address to welcome the audience into his world.
All the actors possessed a focus and conviction to deliver the story. They were honest and direct; engaging and funny. They understood the story and its importance enough to know when to pull back from the comedy. By the end of the piece we felt as though we had been with Tom on his journey of discovery and the effect was genuinely moving.
There is really only one small point. I think the decision to play Tight with a broad cockney accent led the actor towards exaggerated characterisation and movement. I would suggest playing Tight with only a suggested London accent or simply in the actor’s normal speaking voice.
Overall, however, the performances were incredibly well judged. I think the performers possess a maturity beyond their years. They were incredibly supportive of each other and revealed in the discussion that followed the performance a deep engagement with the issues of the piece and an eloquence to express this.


The set was fairly simple; the school hall had black cloths hung in space to create a performance area. At the beginning various household objects had been placed about the space. Later a bench, framed by railings, was brought on to represent the Tunstall Estate. This simplicity allowed for swift transitions to be made. The lighting and costumes were kept similarly simple.
The music for the piece had been composed, and was played on piano, by Yui Suzuki. Yui's composition was fantastic; whether in the songs - which adeptly incorporated the set lyrics - or the underscoring, the music always felt instep with the production.


The audience were diverse in age and the production was enthusiastically received. It was clear from the comments I overheard afterwards that the audience had been impressed by how the company had tackled difficult themes. The audience were clearly moved by the company's performance.


Everything appeared in order.


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