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Review: CABLE STREET and REMOTE, National Theatre Connections Festival

The National Theatre brings young playwrights and youth theatre groups together for its annual Connections Festival

Review: CABLE STREET and REMOTE, National Theatre Connections Festival Review: CABLE STREET and REMOTE, National Theatre Connections Festival Lisa Goldman's Cable Street takes us back to the 1930s when London's East End was home to 100,000 Jews and fascism was stalking its alleyways, readying itself to emerge and seize its opportunity as it had in Italy, Spain and Germany.

We meet two girls, one Irish Catholic (Kitty) and the other Jewish (Leah) and follow their relationship, the narrative going backwards and forwards in time, as it develops from childish games to teenage crush to adult reconciliation. Blood Sisters might be an alternative title!

Kristen Cunliffe and Melissa Jane Stewart deliver splendid performances as the adolescent kids, Cunliffe increasingly radicalised by the violence directed towards her community and by her brother's deepening commitment to Communism as the only movement standing up to the Blackshirts. Stewart falls for the easy answers (and bad boy looks) peddled by Mosley's thugs, showing how an ordinary person can be seduced by manipulative propaganda. Video projections of ordinary Londoners raising the Nazi salute are as hard to blink away as ever, underlining the fact that Cable Street really happened and that the fascists can be faced down by ordinary men and women.

If the story will be familiar to an older audience, it's one that bears repetiton for each new generation and it was wonderfully uplifting to see the students of Wigan's Winstanley College commit so fully to the play and to utilise, under Lisa Baty's pacy direction, the facilities of the Dorfman Theatre. We didn't need to hear the screams and whoops after the curtain call once the cast were out of eyeshot (but not earshot) to know just what a thrill it was for them.

Connections is The National Theatre's annual, nationwide youth theatre festival. The programme has been established for 27 years with a celebrated history of championing the talent of young people from across the UK.

Every year, the NT commissions ten new plays for young people to perform, bringing together some of the UK's most exciting writers with the theatre-makers of tomorrow. It works with 300 youth companies and over 6,000 young people annually from every corner of the UK.

In the week that news broke concerning a university pulling its English Literature degree because it would run the risk of not meeting its target for graduate employment outcomes (and plenty more will follow suit as the government accelerates its atttack on arts education), it's more crucial than ever to ensure that the festival reaches its 30th anniversary and well beyond.

Remote, by Stef Smith, brought us right up to date, into a park where Antler, perhaps taking inspiration from Greta Thunberg and Simeon Stylites, climbs a tree and resolves to stay there because she is tired of the world. Below her, a gang of teens fragments, first steps are taken towards romance, her boyfriend doesn't understand her and a charismatic eccentric passes through. Over a transformative day for all the kids, Antler finds beauty and hope in nature and friendship and decides to take on the curse of apathy head-on.

Carlos Antonio Moo and Roshaine Shakes are tremendous as the gang leaders, Moo playing a nasty piece of work who just wants to be loved and Shakes beautifully portraying the fragility behind her tough girl exterior. Both show the kind of emotional intelligence that marks actors of the future. A shout too for Shahbaz Khan, whose natural charm and razor sharp comic timing brings EDesk, the interloper, to life with real joy.

On Point Theatre Company at Leyton Sixth Form College can be very proud of their work in a play that speaks directly to the kids who will attend their classes and will wonder, as young people always have, whether it's worth it.

Yes - yes it is.

The National Theatre's Connections Festival continues until 2 July

Photo Credit: Helen Murray

From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to... (read more about this author)

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