Exciting New Voices Showcased in NEW VIEWS at the National Theatre
If the answer to the question, "Where will Britain's best playwrights end up showing their work?" - "The National Theatre" is somewhat predictable, that the NT is also the answer to the question "Where will Britain's best playwrights start showing their work?" is far less so.
But, through their New Views competition, (and much else in their splendid Learning programme), the National Theatre gives an opportunity to hundreds of writers aged 14-19 - and a platform for the nine lucky winners to show what they can do. BroadwayWorld was on the South Bank to see some of the work produced.
All around me, friends and family were there to support the playwright - nervousness, a bashful pride and that "once in a lifetime" buzz filled the air, not unlike Graduation Day. Things would never be the same again. Eight of the winners would see actors deliver their scripts in a rehearsed reading, upstairs in a Dorfman Theatre studio, and one would have their script produced as a full-scale show.
Molly Fairhead's The Wrong People was first up, a touching tale of a gay teenager's eventual acceptance by his religious family, coming to terms with their past as much as their present. Finding inspiration in her own family's history, Fairhead wove past and present into a seamless narrative that packed an emotional punch. You could see the support offered both to Fairhead and her teachers by the NT in the development of an accomplished piece of drama.
The second reading was a very different story - Ellie Wee's Behind The Mask a surreal comedy set in a world in which superheroes enjoy the same kinds of privileges our world affords its celebrity elite. Wee's writing had some real fizz to it (and her little speech at the play's conclusion did too), but really needed the visual dimension of costumes to step fully into the world of theatre. What a delight to see comic writing rewarded and to hear a room laughing at the jokes of a teenager.
The winner, Isabel Hague, had her play If Not Now, When staged in the Dorfman Theatre - and what a searing work it is. It follows the relationship of teenagers Liam and Chelsea, a brother and sister stuck in Barnsley, failing to cope with the loss of their rough-and-ready, but loving, mother.
Hague writes like a 21st-century John Godber, her script suffused with the argot of the Yorkshire working class, both her lead characters full of intelligence, but emotionally stunted, in a world in which each seeks meaning through reckless distractions.
Liam turns to the bottle, his bravura and boldness transformed into an attitude that doesn't allow him to say "Enough". Chelsea looks for love, and finds it in the kind of chancer that Liam can see through, but to whom Chelsea is blind. Josh Barrow and Emily Stott, who play the siblings, are superb in the roles, bringing out the pathos and humour in the fiery writing.
The best compliment I can pay Hague is to say that I recognised these kids from my youth, growing up in Liverpool, where we had plenty of Liams and Chelseas - some made it and some didn't. To have conjured them so quickly and so convincingly bodes well for her future as a writer and for the crucial objective of promoting working-class voices in our theatre.
Speaking of which, if you want to join the list of winners below, applications for the NT's annual playwriting competition New Views 2019/20 are now open. To find out more and to apply, click here.
Participating schools and colleges learn about playwriting from some of the finest writers in the industry and write their own 30-minute plays. Students take part in in-school workshops with professional writers, as well as following an online course by playwright Jemma Kennedy and having the opportunity to watch NT Productions or NT Live broadcasts. Teachers receive professional development at the National Theatre at the start of the programme and partner with a professional playwright to mentor the students in school.
Isabel Hague If Not Now, When? Capa College, Wakefield
Ellie Wee Behind The Mask Guildford High School
Molly Fairhead The Wrong People Kesteven and Sleaford High School
Emily Shurmer Personal Statements The Jewish Community Secondary School, London
Cerys Wrigley Background Noise Stopsley High School, Luton
Alice Bennett Last Lap Wolverhampton Girls' High School
Emilia Hitching To Charlie Bancroft's School, London
Alida Charles Damtoft Okay Kingsdale Foundation School, London
Aidan Hall The Closest Thing To Silence Bedales School, Hampshire
BroadwayWorld wishes all of them - and the writers who didn't make the final cut - all the best in the future.
Photo Emma Hare