The National Theatre Connections Festival is an annual event where ten schools and emerging theatre companies are invited to perform ten new plays specifically written for 13-19 year olds on one of Britain’s most famous stages. Throughout the entire festival, the festival has seen over 6,500 young people taking part in all aspects of a production from performing to stage management to marketing. Altogether, the festival has seen 250 companies taking part at partner theatres with ten, of which, being selected to perform on the stage at the NT.
When I heard about this year’s Connections Festival, I just had to check it out. In a time where arts funding is being cut so dramatically, it’s incredible that the National are giving schools and companies the chance to perform and be involved in putting on a production where lack of funding could stop them from doing so. As an added bonus, companies from both my secondary school and my sixth form were chosen to perform at the National, so I definitely had to check it out.
The ten new plays for this year’s Festival are:
THE BLUE ELECTRIC WIND
When people at school start forgetting things, Scott wonders if he’s the only one who’s noticed. It seems it’s only him and some of the school misfits who can see what is happening. Is it the weather? Is it a strange virus? They must join forces to try and work out what is causing everyone in town to lose all sense of who they are.
The Blue Electric Wind is a play about why we remember what we do, it is a play about bravery, it’s a play about growing up.
THE CHANGING ROOM
Chris Bush writes a lyrical piece about existing on the cusp and all the inevitable questions and confusions that come with it. Are we teenagers? Are we children? Do are parents embarrass us? It’s about bodies in flux and perspectives shifting; knowing change is coming but not what that change will look like. Set in and around a swimming pool, it follows a group of teens full of excitement, impatience and uncertainty, each with their own secret worries and desires for what comes next.
In-Sook took the tragic, true story of the Laos Nine as her starting point and used it to interrogate ideas of hope, escape and cultural difference.
Nine teenagers have fled North Korea and dream of their escape and a new life in the South. Their journey is far from over and with threats around every corner, perhaps the mysterious figure of The Big Brother can help them or is he the very person they’re running from. Their lives hang in the balance and could it all ultimately come down to a garish South Korean gameshow?
THE CEASEFIRE BABIES
Fiona began by looking at the rise in the youth Republican movements across Ireland and in this found a story that looks at the relationship our identities and beliefs have with the past. Do we inherit our beliefs? Can a cycle of ideology and disagreement be broken and who can take the first step? In a city still divided by a crumbling wall, siblings Mikey and Jamie no longer see eye to eye. There’s change in the air and not everyone’s ready for it. Jamie wants to reignite the old conflicts of her father and uncle but Mikey and their friends must decide to either take hold of their own destinies, or allow the ghosts of the past to dictate their futures.
Proud Londoner, Phoebe imagines a community divided by politics and water. When the Thames burst its banks, the North and the South became separated. Myths abound about ‘the other side’ – is it really better? Four sets of teenagers ignore the risks of the treacherous crossing to find out whether the other side is all it’s cracked up to be. The drowned commuters of the Circle Line conjure memories of the past. These Bridges looks at a fearful future and seeks to show that if we stick together, we may just survive it all.
WHEN THEY GO LOW
Natalie began writing this play when the prospect of woman leading the free world seemed a sure thing – then things changed.
Social media goes into a frenzy over pictures of Sarah at a party on the weekend – no one knows quite what she got up to. When Miss Reef lectures the girls on taking more responsibility for their actions, Louise becomes enraged that the boys who took the pictures have nothing to answer for. She wages war on the misogyny but when she threatens school stalwart Scott and his claim to the School Captain title, things get very nasty. A website appears, rating the girls on their appearance and shaming them for their actions.
A play about everyday feminism and the changing face of teenage sexuality in an online world. When they go low, we go high.
Barney and his theatre company Up In Arms champion work that reaches out into forgotten rural communities. His play locates itself firmly in that world. Ross wants Jenny, but Jenny wants adventure. Heather wants Claire to get better and Claire wants a normal life. Gabby wants to go to uni but worries about her brother. Mark and Chris just want something to do. WANT tells the stories of a constellation of young people through a series of charged, longing exchanges. A cycle of characters try to decide what kind of life is waiting for them.
THE SWEETNESS OF A STING
Chino was inspired by the fables of West African storytelling, using nature to tell human stories.
Badger’s parents decide they want to return to their home country, so he is confronted with the possibility of leaving everything he knows and becoming a visitor in a strange world. Attempting to run away and escape his parent’s plans, Badger finds himself in a world full of insects, stories and Thunder – a land beneath our feet that he cannot escape from. This fantastical story looks at what it means to be young – disconnected from nature, and from your identity.
Fifty years on from the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in England, Chris Thompson wanted to write a play about the struggles and the joy of being gay. In a remote part of the UK, where nothing ever happens, a group of teenagers share a safe house for LGBT+ young people. While their shared home welcomes difference, it can be tricky for self-appointed group leader Birdie to keep the peace. The group must decide how they want to commemorate an attack that happened to people like them in a country far away. How do you take to the streets and protest if you’re not ready to tell the world who you are? If you’re invisible, does your voice still count? A play about love, commemoration and protest.
[ BLANK ]
A National Theatre/Clean Break co-commission
Alice Birch’s theatrical provocation is a co-commission between Connections and theatre company Clean Break. Clean Break work with women in the criminal justice system, inspiring playwrights and audiences with their ground-breaking work.
[ BLANK ] is no traditional play, it’s a series of 60 scenes – some of which may feel connected, others less so – about adults and children impacted by the criminal justice system. It’s about what life is like when adults feel absent from it. But it can be about whatever you like – you can choose as many or as few scenes in order to construct your own narratives.
The productions invited to appear at the NT in the final week of this year’s Festival are:
Tuesday 26 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – [ BLANK ] by Alice Birch performed by See&Eye Theatre, City and Islington College (London)
[BLANK] is the piece that I managed to fit into my week to see. I went to City and Islington College and almost did an A Level in Drama (after completing a Drama GCSE at Haggerston School) but I chickened out last minute (thanks anxiety). This piece was performed by the See&Eye Theatre company which has been running for three years now and this is their first time performing at Connections. This play was really interesting and keeps you on your toes, trying to find the connections between scenes. I hadn’t seen Alice Birch’s smash hit play Anatomy of a Suicide which was at the Royal Court last year, but I’m glad I got an insight into her excellent writing here performed by an excellent company.
photo by Richard H Smith.
8.30pm – The Changing Room by Chris Bush performed by Cornwall College (St Austell, Cornwall)
Wednesday 27 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – Want by Barney Norris performed by St Brendan’s Sixth Form College (Bristol)
8.30pm – The Sweetness of a Sting by Chinonyerem Odimba performed by Haggerston School (Hackney, London)
Thursday 28 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – The Ceasefire Babies by Fiona Doyle performed by Yew Tree Youth Theatre (Wakefield)
8.30pm – These Bridges by Phoebe Eclair-Powell performed by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre (Chichester)
Friday 29 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – The Free9 by In-Sook Chappell performed by TRANSMISSION, Jacksons Lane (London)
8.30pm – The Blue Electric Wind by Brad Birch performed by Collision (Central Scotland)
Saturday 30 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – When They Go Low by Natalie Mitchell performed by CAPA College (Wakefield)
8.30pm – Dungeness by Chris Thompson performed by PACE Youth Theatre (Paisley, Scotland)
If you can get to the Connections festival by the end of the week, then I highly recommend doing so. The tickets are only £5 and you get to see some new work performed by excellent companies from up and down the country. You never know, you could be seeing the stars of tomorrow.
The National Theatre are also currently looking for 300 youth theatre companies, schools and colleges to take part in the festival next year. For more information please visit https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/learning/connections but you haven’t got long as the deadline is July 9th.
Until next time,