The National Theatre’s Connections festival is a nationwide youth festival that spans whole of the UK. Each year the National Theatre commission ten playwrights to write new plays for young people, crossing a multitude of themes that resonate with what it is like to be a young person in today’s world.
This year, 273 companies and over 6000 young people have taken part and had the opportunity to perform at leading theatres across the UK. The National Theatre’s Connections is incredibly important for so many reasons. Firstly, because it allows young people to engage with theatre in all its forms, from acting to technical, marketing, composition and much more. Also because access to the arts is diminishing and this is a scheme that allows young people to learn essential skills through the art of theatre.
I caught two plays in the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre. Salt by Dawn King performed by Dimensions Performance Academy and Chaosby Laura Lomas performed by the Glasgow Acting Academy.
Salt by Laura Lomas
Salt tells the story of a group of young school leavers that are fearful of their future and prospects in the big wide world. Worried about getting a job, struggling to support themselves, they sign up to a new government initiative that gives them the chance to train and learn skills overseas. Thousands of teenagers jump at the chance but it isn’t quite what it seems.
We meet the group of hopeful teenagers when they embark on board the FAS ship. With weeks at sea, they spend this time competing and improving their skills with a series of tests. Once they arrive in China, they will start their ‘work placements.’
It’s an eye-opening look at the way the world is going and the pressure we put on young people. With the current uncertainty in the world, it’s no wonder these young people are unsure of their future. It’s also an interesting look at the way we steer our young people into believing there are only certain routes to success. These girls believe by working for free on these ‘work placements’ they will instantly walk into a job, when it’s clear to us as the audience they are being taken advantage of.
As time progresses they start to realise something isn’t quite right and the reality isn’t living up to expectation. There is a recurring argument between two of the girls, one who is insistent it is slavery and the other who keeps repeating: “It’s a work placement.” It’s a harsh reminder of the lack of options available when first starting out in your career. Despite being a dystopian story that feels far from reality, it mirrors the unpaid internships and low paid apprenticeships with long hours that are happening today.
The Dimensions Performance Academy gave a superb performance. Each of them brought so much character and charisma to create the array of personalities. We witness the highs and lows of their friendship as tensions arise and they start to clash, their relationships with one another are tested. It’s an interesting look at how high stress situations can alter our being.
Chaos by Dawn King
The National Theatre Connections programme has a quote about Chaos from a performer in the company. It reads: “In moments of chaos it is important to cling to the things that make the most sense to you. For us, it is theatre. Performing helps us young artists turn chaos into something beautiful.
Chaos by Laura Lomas is a lyrical and captivating symphony of dislocated and interconnected scenes. We meet a series of characters navigating life who are searching for meaning within the instability of our world.
It’s bright and bursting with colour and energy. Ultimately it’s a play about connection, how we connect to each other and with our world. Muddling through conversations of physics, love, violence, the cosmos and finding what makes us human. It’s abstract but mesmerising, each scene ultimately means nothing in the grand scheme of the narrative, but it’s those small moments that create a beautifully encapsulating production.
The Glasgow Acting Academy are a really interesting group of performers that bring their own personality and style to the characters. You find yourself drawn in to their wide-eyed enthusiasm for understanding and you are gripped on to every word as they delve into the different stories of these abstract characters.
Applications are now open to take part in next year’s Connections Festival. The National Theatre is looking for 300 school and youth theatre companies across the UK to take part. For more information and to sign up, please visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/connections.