“In general, a sense of possibility…”
If you’re interested in theatre and aged between 15 and 21 (or 25 if in full time education – potentially involving some non traditional education, like distance learning programs) and live in London, then you could do a lot worse than joining the Young Friend of the Almeida Scheme which offers a world of unique opportunities to learn about, engage with and create theatre, all for the princely sum of £5. This range of activities includes LAB, a year-long project in which young people create a new production specifically for young people, this year is John Donnelly’s new play Encourage the Others which forms the centrepiece of The Young Friends Festival, part of the larger Almeida Festival running throughout July.
The festival pulls together a series of events for young people both as participants and performers inspired the Almeida’s programme over the last year and the production has followed the same logic. Donnelly worked with the group of 14 young actors over a six month period, developing the play as his understanding of what themes had affected them most and what they thought the key issues were, affecting young people in society today. The result is Encourage the Others, a short but powerful piece placing the youth of today in the driving seat as they make their voice heard and assert control – over themselves, over the audience, over society…
I was invited to watch a late rehearsal of the show at the Almeida rehearsal space on Upper Street and even without the creative side of things being in place, it is clear to see that there is a fantastic energy at work. I don’t want to reveal too much about the play as the element of surprise is one of its strongest aspects, but I was hugely impressed that there has been no ‘dumbing-down’ for the kids as it were, John Donnelly has written a complex, thought-provoking piece that challenges the viewer as much as it does the actor, especially in the way that it subverts expectations yet maintains a dry sense of humour.
Under Lu Kemp’s patient direction, the company have been working on this in one form or another since January, there’s a genuine sense of organic chemistry at work here, both in dealing with the rapid-fire dialogue and also in the way they all relate to each other, lines bounce from character to character but the group dynamic remains natural, disturbing at times but always natural. And naming no names, I could see perhaps 4 star performers in a pleasingly strong collection that elevates this from ‘just’ a youth project to a piece of work that has earned its place on the Almeida main stage.
Breathing a real sense of fresh air into a theatre which may have something of a middle-class, middle-aged reputation, Encourage the Others deserves your attention this coming weekend not least for what it promises for the future in terms of acting talent, but as an indication of the work the Almeida is doing behind the scenes to help secure the next generation of theatre-goers.