Chrysalis Festival

Nov 19 2016 | By More

Youth Theatre Festival takes Trav by storm

By Thom Dibdin

The youth theatre festival Chrysalis got off to a fine start on Friday 19 November 2016 in the Traverse, with a pair of productions which made two very strong and salient points about theatre by young people.

Over the weekend a quartet of young companies will be staging different productions, with another three putting on scratch performances. There is also to be a whole programme – Chrysalis Too – of events, meetings and workshops for participants, youth companies and the general public.

A scene from Sheep from Tron Young Company. Photo Andy Catlin.

Steph Bones in a scene from Sheep by Tron Young Company. Photo Andy Catlin.

Youth Theatre Arts Scotland, which runs the festival, has put together a great programme, bigger and broader than last year’s, which seems to be drawing in the crowds to match.

It clearly addresses the problem, highlighted by YTAS director Kenny McGlashan as he opened the festival when he said that in the past, “youth theatre was held back by outdated perceptions of what it was – and the lack of awareness of the innovation of young people.”

Here, what ever else there it might have been, was innovation with Sheep from Glasgow’s Tron Young Company and Club from the Maltese company Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre.

Opening the performances Sheep, written and directed by Martin O’Connor, brought home some solid ideas about war, gender and the state of the world today. Club, directed by Denise Mulholland and created by members of the company, is about a group of friends dealing with the accidental death of one of their number.

really big themes

Both productions showed how much theatre by young people can engage fully – and on equal terms – with the really big themes of the day.

A scene from Sheep from Tron Young Company at Chrysalis. Photo Andy Catlin.

Rachel McMurray in scene from Sheep by Tron Young Company at Chrysalis. Photo Andy Catlin.

Watching Sheep, I could not help but think of the state of the world we have found ourselves living in after the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the USA. A world of ongoing wars that are both remote to our pampered existence, but brought home as men are called up to fight in distant lands for ideals that seem increasingly nebulous.

With six compelling performances portraying women bereaved by the deaths of their fiancés, the somewhat episodic play caught and played with ideas of post-truth dislocation from the reality of what is happening. Portrayed with a strongly contemporary use of mobiles and language.

Repeat it in a couple of years time and the domestic element will possibly feel dated. But there was something eternal about the three lads playing the soldiers gone to war, a machismo and buoyed-up optimism as they escaped poverty and laughed in the face of death.

In Club, it was the reports of the deaths of young people who have died while taking extreme selfies that came to mind. The plot concerned a lad who had jumped to his death from a cliff, egged on by a dozen friends. A jump they had done before but which, live on phone video, went horribly wrong. But it was that guilt of social pressure that came to mind.

a hole in existence

At its best, this provided a horrific depth and understanding. One actress talking about remembering to forget the person whose loss has burned a hole in her existence, got right into the nub of loss and guilt. Others argued about blame and culpability. Drinking games were portrayed with a rarely seen directness. Modern technology and social media were wound into the plot with real skill.

The lads learn to waltz in Sheep from Tron Young Company. Photo Andy Catlin.

The lads learn to waltz. Sam Stopford, John McAndrew and Ben Ewing in Sheep by Tron Young Company. Photo Andy Catlin.

At its worst, the production provided the second great truth of the evening. That youth theatre is mature enough to fail. Not by being mediocre, or performed by people who are not very good at acting yet – this was neither of those – but to properly fail by taking big, bold steps which simply do not work.

For all that Club engaged, and had a dozen thoroughly excellent performances, its used music too much as a substitute for plot development and characterisation. Not just as backing to help create atmosphere but as an excuse to resort to interpretive dance.

There’s nothing wrong in that in itself – Cora Bissett’s use of Patti Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit in Jumpy being a case in point – but to punctuate the show with big loud, all-encompassing numbers which run for the totality of their natural lengths while the company jerk around in arcane, ritualistic depictions of their growing grief and inner turmoil feels self indulgent to the extreme.

Which point of view not doubt will polarise people – for all that I found it misguided and wrong, there will be others to whom it spoke with great clarity. But the point to make is that this is theatre which is strong enough to create such a dichotomy of feeling.


Chrysalis Festival
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Friday 18 – Sunday 20 November 2016
Tickets and details:

Tron Youth Theatre
Fri 18: 7pm, Sat 19: 2pm.

Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre.
Fri 18: 8.30pm, Sun 20: 4pm.

The Island
Platform Young Company
Sat 19: 6pm; Sun 20: 6pm.

Phenomena (A Beginners Guide to Love & Physics)
Sounds Like Chaos and The Albany
Sat 19: 7pm; Sun 20: 7.15pm.

Emergence Scratch Performances
Strange Town Theatre, Macrobert Young Company and Beacon Youth Theatre
Sat 19: 3.30pm.


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