The National Youth Theatre's winter showcase production illustrates its ethos beautifully

By: Dec. 06, 2023

Review: THE NATIONAL YOUTH THEATRE: ADA, Workshop Theatre Amidst strong competition, the Holloway Road is one of the more unprepossessing of arterial routes that one takes to leave London, worse still on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, darkness clawing at the windows by 3pm. But, just off it, one can find the National Youth Theatre, founded in 1956, consequently predating The National Theatre by seven years, and proud owners of a new performance space, The Workshop Theatre.

I ventured inside to see a new play, Ada, written by Rebecca Manley and performed by young actors for a young(ish) audience with the vim and verve that only that first flush of life in the spotlights can provide. 

The production told the story of Ada Lovelace, the Victorian woman who collaborated with Charles Babbage on prototype mechanical computers who is now acknowledged to have played a key role developing the binary coding used by Alan Turing and others. That revolutionary work underpins, well, the very screen on which you are reading this. 

It’s a time-travelling tale of empowerment and self-knowledge that tells you that you cannot fly too close to the sun in real life, no matter the obstacles in your way, so don’t be discouraged. Unlike some shows that seek to inspire, the message never overpowers the narrative and, in the blinking of an eye, the hour is done - pace, as director, Andrew Whyment, evidently knows, is the key to success in young people’s theatre.


The ensemble cast each deserve a mention: Leo Corbitt, an eccentric Babbage; Mark Crawley, a foppish Lord Byron; Lydia Milne, an imperious Queen Victoria; Stella Saltibus, an inspirational Mary Somerville; Ella Dacres, the lost girl Ama; and the three Adas, time-slipping through the play, Kira Golightly, Kijana Mihajlovski and El Simons. There’s talent aplenty there! 

The National Youth Theatre itself has, of course, an ethos that sits perfectly with the play’s moral. One never reads much these days about any institution without seeing claims to promote collaboration and inclusion (and there’s plenty on the NYT’s Our Culture page), but seeing it in action liked this brings the clichés to life.  

All the skills and (some of the) knowledge we’re told the 21st century economy needs are there in the show. Softer stuff like communication, teamwork and empathetic leadership run like a thread through the challenge of getting a show on its feet. But there’s harder stuff too: discipline, rigour and concentration. I saw all of this in one tiny moment when, after the matinee (the show’s final preview), the cast were sharing a table and the director asked them to go back in. Instantly, they upped and went, knowing that good work is only ever the product of hard work.

It’s all too easy to forget in the glare of the lights at opening night’s red carpet or with James Graham garnering popular and critical acclaim in the West End and beyond, that institutions like the NYT are a critical element of theatre’s fragile ecosystem. But you don’t need to ask me about that, try Mr Graham himself. He got his start off the Holloway Road along with Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, Timothy Dalton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Firth, Derek Jacobi, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane, Helen Mirren, Lysette Anthony, Rosamund Pike, Regé-Jean Page and Kate Winslet.

Many thousands more passed through the NYT’s doors without the acquiring the garlands of those alumni, but every one of them will never forget the experience and will draw on it for the rest of their lives. We shouldn’t be complacent that it’ll all be there for the next generation.

Find out more about the National Youth Theatre

Photo Credits: Johan Persson