YMT blog

Charlotte Conquest - Not the End of the World - Youth Music Theatre UK - EdFringe

Do we really know what happened on Noah's Ark?


Director Charlotte Conquest tells us about our Edinburgh Fringe spectacular NOT THE END OF THE WORLD

Not the End of the World is a new musical based on the award-winning book by Geraldine McCaughrean, and her re-imagining of events on Noah's Ark.

When I first read Geraldine's book, I became immediately hooked. Every turn of the page leads further into the dark, twisted intensity of what life might have felt like trapped on a vast boat lost in a world of water. This alternative take of the iconic traditional Noah story challenges stereotypical Sunday School assumptions that life on the Ark was happy. The twists and turns of the plot surprises and appalls at every turn. The more I read, the more I wanted to put this on the stage.

Think of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, where arrogant and violent leaders emerge when put in extreme situations. Or of Arthur Miller's The Crucible where everything and everyone belongs to either God or the devil; dissent is associated with satanic activity and hysteria thrives because those in power benefit from it. As in Jeannette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story is told through the eyes of a girl growing up surrounded by belief.

Our protagonist, Timna, is on the cusp of challenging the preached beliefs fed to her as she learns to face the world with new wisdoms and insights. By introducing a fictitious daughter living within the traditional biblical world of Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, Timna emerges as a figure contesting biblical narrators. She says early on that her story is bound not to get told as women's lives are mostly written out of history. She stands for new order in the new world the stranded family are seeking. Her growing confidence with independent thought and questioning is constantly knocked down and denied as the voice from the top becomes increasingly controlled by the blind, inhumane fundamentalism. Every hateful belief survives under a cover of righteousness and can find validation in writings that claim to be authored by God. Timna has to learn to adapt quickly and control anarchic thoughts from spilling out. Her very survival is at risk. And on top of all that she has to hide two young survivors of the flood, a boy and his baby sister, stowed away in the bowels of the ship. Our stage version matches this edge-of-the-seat-storytelling. 

Our Noah family, helpless and starving, are lost in a cruel flood, aboard an ark that is packed with ferocious animals. Danger lurks round every corner. The show connects powerful imagery from the original story into a visual and physical feast, using ensemble, song and movement sequences to create the world aboard a decaying ark. Using Ryan Dawson Laight's brilliant set, puppets and symbolic props, and working with Stuart Winter's heart-stopping choreography, the talented cast create an atmospheric, tumultuous journey that carries the audience through the flood, inch by inch. Sonum Batra's complex, original score breathes a vocal life in to the story, carried along by Dave Francis' witty yet conversely heart-wrenching lyrics. 

The show is unique because it asks questions of the original story that may not have thought about before: what happens to the neighbours left behind once the flood hits? How could Noah be so sure of his mission? What would the world feel like if women were driving it? 

If I had to describe the show in 3 words I would say: immersive, anarchic and challenging. As book reviewer Phil Groom says, 'If there's a Noah's Ark sailing around the world today, I dare suggest that its religion, like McCaughrean's Ark, is full of leaks. Beliefs are tossed about in the storms, and some people on board are so obsessed with their own purity that they'll push other survivors away to drown. But also on board there are those who won't stand by and watch, who are throwing out lifelines to the drowning. It's not the end of the world and you can't afford to ignore this story'.

Not the End of the World - Edinburgh Fringe - Youth Music Theatre UK - New Town Theatre

Not the End of the World is playing at the New Town Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 6-16 August at 3pm. Book tickets here.

Rachel Birch-Lawson - Sweat Factory - Sadler's Wells - Youth Music Theatre UK

What is SWEAT FACTORY? by Rachel Birch-Lawson


Choreographer and Dance Artist Rachel Birch-Lawson writes about her bold project SWEAT FACTORY.

Sweat Factory is a culmination of lots of different ideas and influences. Years ago I was working in a dance studio and the owner described how when she bought it, it had been a disused sweatshop. She described the space ‘lined with trestle tables, a forest of cables hanging low from the ceiling’, and I thought - there’s a piece in there. Having kept the idea in my pocket for a long time, it’s really exciting to have the chance to finally bring it to life.

The fact that so much of our clothing is still made by workers in sweatshops working in unsafe and unjust conditions is obviously a huge concern, and through this show we want to raise awareness of this issue. However, there are lots of other things at stake too: the choices we make, what we stand for, and how far we’re prepared to go to defend our beliefs are the major themes of the show. I also want to challenge perceptions of dance, what it can be and what it can say; and, very importantly, I want to challenge stereotypes of young women, showing that these girls can be strong, powerful, and physically virtuosic.

In the end, the show has been developed as a collaboration between the whole creative team, the cast of 2014’s Dance Connection, and this new cast for Sweat Factory who will have lots of creative input!

Unintentionally, we’ve ended up creating a new genre with this piece - a ‘contemporary dance opera’! Having the whole cast dance AND sing simultaneously for the whole 70 minutes seemed perfectly natural to me, and its only once I began talking to other people that I discovered its actually not. It’s a huge challenge for the cast, a piece that requires incredible performers and a lot of stamina. But the overall effect is stunning: pure, visceral action communicated from the heart.

Coming from a contemporary dance background, my idols are choreographers like Pina Bausch, Elizabeth Streb, who combines stunt work and dance, and companies like Ballet C de la B and Ultima Vez. However, moving to work in theatre, opera, and music theatre has opened my eyes to so many new techniques and ways of working, and now my passion is to try and bring those different worlds together.

Describing the show in just a few words, I would say it is visceral, engaging, and heartfelt. It’s going to be a great show!

Sweat Factory Sadler's Wells Youth Music Theatre UK

Sweat Factory is being performed at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells, 31 July - 1 August as part of YMT's 2015 Summer Season of New Music Theatre. Tickets here.

Andrew Doyle - Gulliver's Travels Lyric Theatre Belfast - Youth Music Theatre UK

Q&A with Andrew Doyle


Stand-up comedian Andrew Doyle chats with us about YMT's upcoming spectacular GULLIVER'S TRAVELS at the Lyric Belfast.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Most people’s expectations of Gulliver’s Travels are based on the abridged version we all read at school, or the various adaptations we’ve seen over the years. The focus always seems to be on Lilliput and Brobdingnag, where Gulliver encounters a race of tiny people and a race of giants respectively. But there are plenty of other islands he visits on his various voyages, which I was keen to represent. My favourite is Laputa, the flying island.

Why is this show unique?

Duke Special’s music for this show is really exciting. There’s always been a theatricality to his work, and the genre just seems so natural for him. Then there’s Swift’s story itself, which is endlessly surprising. It’s exactly the kind of show I’d want to see. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

What are your influences for this show?

That’s a tricky question. I usually only ever become conscious of influences after the thing is written. But thinking about it, I can see elements of Mervyn Peake in the more fantastical moments, particularly in the way I’ve tried to combine darkness with comedy. There are also a number of Shakespearean allusions in the piece - I hate talking about my own writing, though;  I end up sounding really self-important. So thanks for that.

Can you describe the show in three words?

No. And if I could it wouldn’t be worth seeing.

What are your favourite musicals?

I really love Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s minimalist opera about Mahatma Gandhi. Does that count? My favourite musical is probably Little Shop of Horrors, mostly because it manages to be heartfelt without falling into the trap of sentimentality. And any show in which the protagonists are eaten is bound to be a success.

Gulliver's Travels Lyric Belfast Youth Music Theatre UK

Gulliver's Travels is being performed at the Lyric Theatre Belfast, 30 July - 1 August as part of YMT's 2015 Summer Season of New Music Theatre. Tickets here.

Ciaran Butler

My Life after YMT - by Ciarán Butler


I am writing a short write up about my life after YMT because I feel it is important that this organisation understands the impact they can have on a young boy's life.

Before my YMT years I was a very shy and scared young boy. I was too worried about the thoughts of others and hid my love for performing from the world. I have met some amazing people during my years with YMT, some of which are touring in musicals and others who are ruling the pop charts. I always wanted to pursue my own career in the arts but with a very low opinion on myself, I could never imagine my face on those who lived their lives on stage!

Walking away from YMT I found a different spirit and almost a different person was created. I had the courage and determination to follow my dreams and audition for schools overseas in England that would morph me into the artistic and talented person that I always wanted to be. I know this all sounds super cheesy but YMT really did create the present and future I always wanted.

Ciaran Butler - The Chosen Room 2009

I no longer feared being a failure, as I learnt for every failure there is a lesson to be learnt that actually built a stronger performer within me. Thanks to YMT I graduated from LCM and Italia Conti, two schools of which I am very proud to have been training in. The career that has been created was on to only my imagination but then became reality. Modelling in front of cameras for Christmas Campaigns and taking part in a foreign advertisement as a dancer on set. I never saw myself as a traveller, however, returning from Mallorca as a Lead Sing and Lead Dancer in four separate shows ignited a flare to see the world and learn cultures while living my dream as a PROFESSIONAL singer, actor and dancer.

My dreams were reached when I got to travel to America and the Bahamas as a Lead Singer and Dancer in a Rock and Roll show (88keys) and a Disco Show (Studio VIP). Working with the most talented cast I had ever worked with, becoming a sort of family we all were star stuck as we trained in puppeteering  with the stars of Sesame Street and leading actors from Broadway.

In my heart of hearts I know it is all the support and chances that all the founders and everyone unseen in the YMT family, directors and choreographers that helped me see that I could have the life I wanted, and that I was good enough. I look forward to auditioning and fighting for a place in the WEST END and because of all of you I believe I can get there.

Many Many Thanks, Ciarán Butler.

Ciarán was in YMT's productions of Oh! Carol (2007) and The Chosen Room (2008 and 2009).