Victoria’s Knickers @ Soho Theatre

Continuing the National Youth Theatre REP Company’s season at Soho Theatre, Victoria’s Knickers is an ensemble piece based on the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, and the legend of Edward Jones – a teenager who broke into Buckingham palace repeatedly between 1837-1840. Written by NYT alumnus Josh Azouz, the play is witty, hilarious and terrifically performed by the talented young cast.

Victoria (Alice Vilanculo) is about to be crowned queen and marry her cousin Albert (Oseloka Obi). But when a young man called Ed (Jamie Ankrah) breaks into the palace and she catches him sitting on her throne, his wit and boldness charms her. Victoria soon begins an affair with Ed, even making plans to move to Blackpool. When Ed is caught on the palace grounds he is imprisoned, and it’s up to Victoria to save her love.

victorias-knickers-0211b.jpg

Photo: Helen Murray

Ankrah’s performance is a bit rough around the edges but his energy is outstanding. As soon as he appears on stage the whole auditorium is rooting for him. He takes time to make cheeky glances at the audience, making him great to watch as this lovable character. Opposite him, in the title role, the fiery Vilanculo is full of sass, a stunning voice, and brilliant comic timing – she is an absolute joy to watch. As a group, the cast is completely in sync with one another and their rendition of Blackstreet’s No Diggity is a particular highlight. Led by Obi’s impressive vocals the whole team gets involved and has fun with it, prompting cheering and roars of laughter from the audience.

Azouz has taken the infamous story of The Boy Jones and filled in the blanks with outrageous and fantastic ideas. Using slang to really root the story in London, and with a mixture of original music and well-known hip-hop, Victoria’s Knickers is a boisterous piece performed by a lively cast.

Victoria’s Knickers is at Soho Theatre until 10th November.

Consensual @ Soho Theatre

The National Youth Theatre REP Company’s new season of work kicks off with a vital story exploring issues of sex and consent. Written by Evan Placey, Consensual centers around a teacher whose past involvement with a 15-year-old student resurfaces when he turns up with questions for her. Even though the direction feels awkward at times, the strong ensemble brings to life Placey’s play amicably, with some terrific stand out performances dotted throughout.

Diane (Marilyn Nnadebe) is in charge of her school’s Healthy Relationships curriculum, teaching her students about consent. But when Freddie (Fred Hughes-Stanton) turns up claiming she groomed him when he was fifteen, she is forced to look back at the night they spent together seven years ago. While Diane struggles to make sense of what happened, teacher Mary (Laurie Ogden) is getting closer to her student Georgia (Alice Vilanculo), which becomes extremely problematic when Georgia finds herself in a tough situation with her boyfriend.

NYT-REP-Company-in-Consensual-at-the-Soho-Theatre.-Credit-Helen-Murray-2.jpg

Photo: Helen Murray

Nnadebe’s performance as Diane is occasionally excessive, but she is a strong lead who brings to life the character with passion and good comic timing. Along with Hughes-Stanton’s childish yet vehement Freddie, the subject matter is tackled head-on and unashamedly. Their interactions can be hard to watch, in particular in the second half of the play when they get intimate, but this just adds to the undiscerning situation these characters have found themselves in.

The ensemble’s high energy in the classroom scenes is amusing, but they often can be overly animated which soon begins to feel garish and cringe-worthy, especially during scene changes where they sing and rap. While Pia Furtado’s direction appears clumsy in these scenes, the intimacy she creates in others is delightful and allows the performers to stand out.  In particular, when Vilanculo’s self-assured yet vulnerable Georgia shares a scene with Ogden’s timid but attentive teacher Mary, it’s both hilarious and moving. The pair has a great connection on stage.

NYT-REP-Company-in-Consensual-at-the-Soho-Theatre.-Credit-Helen-Murray-3.jpg

Photo: Helen Murray

As the play makes clear, conversations about sex and consent are very relevant to young people and should be a vital part of the national curriculum. Even though some points about healthy relationships are missed because of the quick pace of the piece, the overall performance is effective and enjoyable. The cast works well together and it’s clear they’re having fun on stage, which is always a joy to experience.

Consensual is at Soho Theatre until 9th November.

Zigger Zagger @ Wilton’s Music Hall

Written by Peter Terson, Zigger Zagger was the first piece of new writing commissioned by the National Youth Theatre. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the play is being staged at Wilton’s Music Hall, directed by Juliet Knight. With a cast of 50, the play about football hooliganism is loud and full of energy from its young performers. But at times this energy comes crashing down, and the change in pace makes it hard to keep the audience’s attention.

Harry Philton (Josh Barrow) is doing badly at school, and things at home aren’t much better. His mum (Ciara Wright) is constantly spending time with a different “uncle” every night, while his sister (Georgina Daniels) and her husband Les (Ebe Bamgboye) have settled down to a life of routine and television. Unsure of what to do, Harry turns to his friend Zigger Zagger, the leader of the football fans, who promotes sex, drink, and violence. In the end, though, it’s up to Harry to choose: a wholesome life in a menial job, conforming to society? Or football hooliganism and uncertainty?

©NOBBY CLARK+44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Photo: Nobby Clark

The most exciting part of this show is the way the company works together as an ensemble. They bring to life Terson’s text with stunning energy, and their collective chanting and singing are pure power. In particular, it’s the classroom, football and fight scenes that draw attention to their abilities as great performers. They are a force that takes over the stage, drawing you in, and you can’t help but smile. People around me were even chanting along with them.

It’s during the more intimate scenes, when only a handful of characters appear on stage, that the energy disappears. Barrow is unlikable as Harry, so instantly it becomes hard to sympathise with him. This makes the scenes with lengthier dialogue difficult to engage with, especially during the second half of the play. That isn’t to say there aren’t some very good moments in the piece and equally great performances.

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk
Photo: Nobby Clark

Saffron Pooley’s singing is something to watch out for, as she makes a still moment purvey beautiful emotional with her voice. Teddy Robson as Zigger Zagger also gives a strong performance, with his cheeky chap antics. Even though his character is flawed, Robson manages to make him human and you can’t help wanting to see more. Equally, Patrick Bayele is memorable as the Magistrate, standing out with his articulate performance in this small role. One final mention has to go to Adam Smart, who, as the Youth Careers Advisor, is absolutely hilarious. His brilliant comedic timing is effortless, and even though he is on stage for a brief moment, he makes an impression.

Staging Zigger Zagger is obviously the best way to celebrate the play’s 50th anniversary. The young ensemble works extremely well together, and are amazing collectively on stage. While a number of scenes fall flat, there are some brilliant individual performances.

 

The Host @ The Yard Theatre

Produced as part of the National Youth Theatre’s East End Season, The Host is a new play written by Nessah Muthy, tackling the refugee crisis, poverty and race. With its talented young cast, inspired writing, and dynamic direction from Zoe Lafferty, the show is a great example of how difficult subjects can be tackled with humour and emotion.

Yasmin’s (Rebekah Murrell) sisters are struggling to make ends meet – Natalie (Jesse Bateson) cant repay her loan, Hayley (Taylor Keegan) has been forced to take time off work, and Pearl (Isabella Verrico) has taken up three jobs just to pay the rent. For them the answer is simple: Yasmin needs to move back in with them. Just scraping by with two jobs of her own, she doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and when refugee Rabea (Zakaria Douglas-Zerouali) appears on the estate without a place to stay, things get complicated. Yasmin agrees to host him, but how can she agree to help a complete stranger when her own family is in despair?

Isabella-Verrico-Rebekah-Murrell-Taylor-Keegan-Jesse-Bateson-in-NYTs-The-Host-at-the-Yard-Theatre-CREDIT-Helen-Maybanks.jpg

Photo: Helen Maybanks

The urgency of the play is felt from the onset as the opening scene is a heated argument between sisters Yasmin and Natalie. The actors fire back and forth and each other, and it’s hard not to be immediately drawn in. Muthy’s writing is dynamic and fast-paced, but it never feels rushed. The ensemble is excellent on stage and they do complete justice to the text. In particular, it’s a pleasure to watch Murrell in action. She bursts on and off stage like a ball of energy and has glorious comic timing, yet it’s deeply moving to watch her in some of the stiller scenes.

Rebekah-Murrell-Zakaria-Douglas-Zerouali-in-the-National-Youth-Theatres-The-Host-at-the-Yard-Theatre-CREDIT-Helen-Maybanks-3.jpg

Photo: Helen Maybanks

Lafferty’s direction leaves the performers exposed, and even when they’re not in a scene, they still appear in the view of the audience – observing the action, sometimes scrutinising the characters’ choices. We’re forced as an audience to always be aware of the other characters even if they’re not actively a part of the action, which emphasises the play’s themes of poverty and displacement. Although there is no conclusion that draws everything to a close, the ending is still satisfying. You’re expected to ponder and consider what has been presented, and hopefully continue the discussion elsewhere.

Muthy looks at race within one family and draws parallels between Rabea and Yasmin that help us consider ourselves in relation to others, those who are strangers and those in our families, and what it even means to be English. In an ocean of post-Brexit plays talking about race and immigration, The Host stands out with its exploration of otherness in a clever and nuanced way, and with a genuinely talented cast.