National Youth Theatre Rep Company  

The National Youth Theatre’s Rep Company is celebrating its first ten years and Susan Elkin paid a visit to learn more.

Each year a group of fifteen or so talented NYT members, aged 18 to 25, are selected by audition to join this company. In just a few months they rehearse three shows, many of which are staged in the West End. They also attend workshops, and work with industry professionals. And there is enough bursary money to support them so that they can apply themselves to this full time. No fees are charged.

As I sit talking to Paul Roseby, artistic director and CEO, over cups of tea in the foyer of NYT headquarters in Holloway Road, this year’s Rep Company are working in the nearby studio theatre. We hear several blood curdling screams. “Oh yes and we murder them as well now” he quips.

The Rep Company was conceived as a cutting edge, fast track alternative to expensive formal training and, obviously the need for that is just as acute now as it was in 2012. It was one of Paul’s first projects when he was promoted to the top job. “We’ve calculated that we have provided the equivalent of over £1.3 million worth of training in the last decade” says Paul, adding that the NYT itself has probably invested at least double that. “We were criticised at the beginning for undermining the value of drama training. In fact, we enhance it with our industry-led mentor-driven approach.”

The list of successful alumnae is testament to how well it works. Lauren Lyle plays the title role in the ITV drama, Karen Pirie. Sope Dirisu is the lead in Sky’s Gangs of London. Isabel Adomakoh Young won best actress in the Black British Theatre Award for her Juliet at Regents Park Theatre and has just finished a run as Horatio in Hamlet at Bristol Old Vic. Zainab Hasan played the lead in Antigone at Regents Park this summer. And these are just examples from a long list of credits including a huge amount of film and TV work as well as writing, directing and producing. NYT Rep graduates are focused achievers. “And our former rep company members are excellent at keeping in touch and helping with later cohorts” Paul says.

“Of course, we’re still working in a post-Covid fog” says Paul, who is proud that NYT threw open its doors for last year’s shows on the very first day it was allowed to: 27 May. And this journo/critic, for one, will not forget the quality, energy and joy of Animal Farm for a very long time. “There are a lot of questions, though about theatre for young audiences and getting people into theatres both as performers/creatives and as audience – as we begin to measure the long-term impact of Covid” says Paul soberly.

“We’re in good spirits though and we’ve chosen repertoire for this season, which will ensure that our sixteen company members all get interesting roles – that’s a challenge but we’ll do it. We have two designers in the company this year too so that helps to widen things out.”

The other factor in choosing repertoire is the need to attract audience. “At least half of our audience is school parties” says Paul, “And we all know how difficult it has become for teachers to organise school trips. That is why this year’s season comprises three plays which are likely to appeal to schools. Have you noticed? Everyone’s doing Much Ado at the moment? That’s because it’s a GCSE set text. Ours is remixed by Debris Stevenson. It promises to be a raucous, lyrical Love Island-take on the play.”

Then there’s Gone Too Far which is an Edexcel set text (the NYT staging will be the play’s first time at Theatre Royal, Stratford East) and a version of The Bacchae which is on the Theatre Studies curriculum. Paul and his colleagues must strike a balance between books-balancing pragmatism and providing fabulous, developmental artistic opportunities for young performers. Stressing the value of collaboration Paul insists that the audience is key to artistic success – another thing we learned during the pandemic when audiences were missing.

Paul is well aware, though, that however successful a project is you can never stand still. “For example, we should really have more than one company – perhaps one based outside London” he says with a twinkle. “Or perhaps at some point an additional rep company which is entirely screen-based, because that’s where so much of the work lies. At present the rep company has one acting for screen session programmed each week.” He would also love to create a parallel backstage training project. “But let’s call it technical theatre because there’s a hint of negativity in the term ‘backstage’. It’s essential but usually completely missing in schools.”

Then there’s public awareness. Most people watch drama/story telling of some sort daily via TV, streaming or film even if they never go to the theatre and are dismissive of “artsy” people. But those programmes and shows depend on the training of creators and performers. Paul is only half-joking when he says firmly: “You couldn’t have Netflix without the National Youth Theatre”.

So Happy Birthday NYT Rep. We await your next three shows with keen interest.

The 10th anniversary
season’s NYT Rep shows

Much Ado About Nothing
William Shakespeare
Duke of York’s Theatre
7-10 February 2023

Gone Too Far
By Bola Agbaje
Theatre Royal Stratford East
24 March-01 April 2023

NYT Workshop Theatre
2-6 May 2023