Feature: A Day at The National Youth Music Theatre

Gary Naylor attends a day at the National Youth Music Theatre's residential course at Sevenoaks School

By: Apr. 15, 2024
Feature: A Day at The National Youth Music Theatre
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It felt akin to taking the back off an old analogue watch. Suddenly all the whirling cogs were visible, intermeshing, each doing exactly what was required, like, well, like clockwork. To labour the metaphor, as a reviewer, I only see the face, hands sweeping round, progress serene as the alchemy of musical theatre spins gold from the base metals of talent and commitment. But here was a glimpse of the hard work required to create such creative wonders.

I spent a couple of hours at the National Youth Music Theatre’s Easter residential programme at Sevenoaks School observing just how they do it. With creative education being ruthlessly hacked at as the Government stage a last gasp effort to destroy another element of what makes Britain great, NYMT’s work has never been more necessary in the 48 years of its existence. In the week that I read of the impending evisceration of an alma mater of mine - Goldsmiths - witnessing the energy and confidence on show was a tonic.

Feature: A Day at The National Youth Music Theatre

Young people aged 10-23 were being put through their paces by industry professionals, driven hard but in a supportive environment. One saw examples of an oft-talked about principle that is honoured as often in the breach as in the reality - learning through practice. One also saw just how intensive such methods are - no wonder state-funded institutions have, to a lesser or greater extent, retreated from its methods. 

Ah… funding.  

Education is never cheap, but help is available, the issue of access very much on the minds of NYMT staff. As Kate Golledge, Head of New Work, explains, “Any Young Person who is offered a place on an NYMT course is eligible to apply for a bursary. This applies equally to performers, musicians, young creatives and technicians, and they can request the full amount to cover course fees, or a part bursary to supplement their own fundraising. We also offer fundraising guides, letters of recommendation and advice to those doing individual fundraising. We consider every application really carefully and make it our goal that every talented young person who deserves a place in the company would be supported to take up that spot, regardless of financial situation.” 

Is it worth it? Well I suggest the following selection of alumni rather makes its own point: Jamie Bell, Orlando Bloom, Idris Elba, Kerry Ellis, Sally Hawkins, Tom Hollander, Jude Law, Sheridan Smith and Amara Okereke.   

Feature: A Day at The National Youth Music Theatre

Back at the sharp end, mining talent as once Kent mined coal not so far away, I was taken by a skills session, one focused on younger students not ready yet for a showcase, diamonds in the rough. Their faces were pictures of concentration - I swear they barely noticed a gawping group of visitors lined up against a wall - as they worked on drills to get timing and movement right, practice (lots of it) making perfect. There was no reluctance, no impatience on display, just a keen appreciation of what was required and that hard-learned fact that anything worth doing isn't easy. Feedback was clear and constructive, very much what one might expect to be offered to performers double their age, and more, in rehearsals. 

That brought to mind another element of what was going on in front of us. Here were young people growing up in real time, understanding what teamwork requires, the value of discipline, the joy of collective achievement. It’s this intangible knowledge that theatre-making imparts perhaps more effectively than any other activity and it’s something kids need more than a hazy knowledge of quadratic equations in the 21st century workplace. 

Of course, you don’t need to take my word for it, you can see for yourself come August when three shows will be staged at Southwark Playhouse: Sondheim's Into The Woods; Catastrophe Bay, a new musical by Jim Barne and Kit Buchan; and the Madness musical, Our House. BroadwayWorld will bring you further details as we get them.

You can find out more about NYMT's work here.

Photo Credits: Harry Elletson          


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