Connections Festival  

The NT Connections Festival celebrated its 21st Anniversary with a record number of participating groups. Susan Elkin looks at this year’s final performers.

Our play is preferred” shouts Bottom gleefully to Peter Quince and the other rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he hears that that they’ve been picked to perform at the Theseus’s three couple wedding party. I expect a similar cry of triumph went up when the members of The Marlowe Youth Theatre in Canterbury learned that they were to perform their version of Kellie Smith’s The Monstrum in the Dorfman Theatre at The National on 30 June.

This is the final stage of the NT Connections Festival, now in its twenty second year and one of the world’s biggest youth theatre festivals. Each year the National commissions new one hour plays from esteemed playwrights. Part of the brief is the inclusion of a large (flexible) ensemble cast because these plays are destined for schools, colleges and youth theatres all over the country.

Usually around 250 groups of 13-19 year olds – about 5000 individuals – take part. This year, for the 21st Anniversary of Connections, the scope more than doubled. NT worked with 500 youth theatres and schools to stage this time. And rather than commission new ones this year’s were picked from the 150 or so the scheme has commissioned for young people since 1995 so that the 2017 Connections was and is a celebration of the very best in every sense.

In 2017 Connections worked with a record number of partner theatres such as Marlowe in Canterbury, Theatre Royal Plymouth and dozens of others to stage regional festivals. That means that every group gets the opportunity to present its play in a professional venue. Theatre Royal Plymouth, for example, presented six Connections plays by ten different schools and young theatre groups over a long weekend in April. Such regional festivals took place all over the country.

National Theatre staff attend these performances and eventually choose one version of each play to transfer to the South Bank later in the summer. For the Marlowe Youth Theatre (and the nine other groups) to have been selected from such a huge field, is a terrific achievement although the emphasis, throughout the process, is firmly on celebration rather than on competition and there’s no adjudication at the culminating festival.

Participating groups get support from the NT as they rehearse and prepare their plays which are performed in their own school college or space in the first instance. There is, for example a directors’ weekend in the autumn before the real work kicks off early in the new year. The young people involved are not limited to acting either. The full range of professional theatre-making is implicit in the scheme: creating marketing campaigns, designing sets and costumes, operating lighting and sound boards, and stage-managing their performances.

Fancy being part of all this next year? Don’t delay. The closing date for application is 10 July.

2017 Connections Festival in the Dorfman and Olivier Theatres

Wednesday 28 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – The Snow Dragons by Lizzie Nunnery performed by Lymm High School (Warrington, Cheshire)8.30pm – Extremism by Anders Lustgarten performed by Theatre Royal Stratford East Youth Theatre + (Stratford, London)

Thursday 29 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – Musical Differences by Robin French performed by NCN Actors (Nottingham)

8.30pm – Three by Harriet Braun performed by Kindred KYT (Peterborough, Cambridgeshire)

Friday 30 June the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – The School Film by Patrick Marber performed by Kingsley Bideford Community Theatre Company (Bideford, Devon)

8.30pm – The Monstrum by Kellie Smith performed by The Marlowe Youth Theatre (Canterbury, Kent)

Saturday 1 July in the Dorfman Theatre
7pm – #YOLO by Matthew Bulgo performed by West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company (Port Tennant, Swansea)

8.30pm – Status Update by Tim Etchells, performed by Rotherham College (Rotherham, South Yorkshire)

Monday 3 July in the Olivier Theatre
7pm – Zero for Young Dudes! by Alistair McDowall performed by Orange Tree Theatre Connections Company (Richmond, London)

8.30pm – FOMO by Suhayla El-Bushra performed by CASTEnsemble (Shardlow, Derby)


Plays for 2018.

Synopses and further information are on the NT Connections website

The Blue Electric Wind by Brad Birch

The Changing Room by Chris Bush

The Free Nine by In-Sook Chappell

Ceasefire Babies by Fiona Doyle

These Bridges by Phoebe Éclair Powell

When They Go Low by Natalie Mitchell

Want by Barney Norris

The Sweetness of a Sting by Chino Odimba

Dungeness by Chris Thompson

Application information

Each group pays a participation fee of £500. There is some bursary funding available to support groups for which the fee would be a significant barrier to participation.

Phone: 020 7452 3313

Website, for further information and downloadable application form: