YMT blog


Reflections in Swan Lake: Beneath The Feathers.


‘We all contain within us the black swan and the white swan, an Odette and an Odile.’

Youth Music Theatre UK is proud to present the new production of ‘Reflections in Swan Lake’. Here is some information about the development of the show and how this magical production came to its feet.

What is this show about?

This is a show about identity: finding out who you truly are, and where you belong; a story of growing into your own skin or discarding one that no longer serves you. What are the events that have shaped us, how do we integrate the different parts of ourselves, how do we learn to tell our own stories?

The production focuses on digging into the myth and folklore that may have inspired the ballet, and deconstructing its core themes, rather than a retelling. Differing from previous Narrative Ballets such as Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, the production draws from the plot but is explored in a far more indirect way. It digs into the overarching themes and archetypal characters; shapeshifting, love, betrayal, identity, sacrifice and belonging. Drawing on tales of transformation and shapeshifting: from the Celtic Selkie myths of seals who come to land as humans, to Zeus disguising himself as a Swan, to Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

A Production Like No Other.

Using the primary mode of dance to communicate these universal emotions and experiences leaves room for the imagination and personal interpretation. It is a production not based on a pre-determined plot structure, but the creative team and cast have devised a piece of dance theatre, not a musical in the more conventional sense. This unorthodox way of working is how most contemporary theatre is constructed. The fragments and themes that have risen up and evolved in rehearsal have been stitched and woven together into a tapestry which has developed a through line with a satisfying conclusion and resolution.
The piece is fundamentally an ensemble focused production; everyone will be and play everything in “a fluidity of identity”. The characters who feature in scenes will pop out of the ensemble and then fold back into the company.

“Bringing this work to life through complex movement and song is a huge challenge, it truly has been a collaborative effort and a privilege to work with so many talented young people. What you see today is a testimony to their commitment, enthusiasm, and talent.”- Rachel Birch-Lawson (Director).

Design and Costume.

Sophie Barlow’s aesthetic perfectly mirrors the themes of swan lake with the design tapping into the theme of anonymity and ambiguity. There will be no sense of time or place (reinforcing the timeless themes of the narrative) in the abstract designs in an attempt to create something not only magical, but mysterious and fluid. The conventional swan costumes have been modernized with the use of rubber gloves and balloons, brutalizing the beauty of the swan and perfectly resonating with the darker undertones of this production.

A quote from Bill Viola beautifully sums up what the production aims to achieve: “I think art has a more important role to play in this century than it had to play in a very, very long time, in terms of history, and the reason for that is, in the age of globalisation, which is an age of fear, it’s an age of uncertainty for many of us, it’s an age that is characterised by the free flow of information”.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Birch Lawson (Garsington Opera, Cahoots NI, and Tangled Feet). She is an alumni of the Clore Leadership Programme, and currently a Leverhulme Arts Scholar (MFA) at Trinity Laban Conservatoire for Dance and Music. Rachel’s work has been performed across the UK, Europe and Africa, supported by organisations including Arts Council England, Kent County Council, the British Council, South East Dance, and Gulbenkian.

Libretto by David Francis (co-writer of three scores for Youth Music Theatre UK shows; Tales from the World’s End, based on stories from Duncan Williamson, Nikki and the Gang by Alan Bissett, co-written with Mairi Campbell, and Not the End of the World).

Composed by James Keane (The Clod Ensemble since 1995 and toured and created with Hofesh Shechter Company for 6 years, including Political Mother the Choreographer’s Cut at Brixton Academy, Sadlers Wells, Paris and Hong Kong and played music in the Brooklyn Academy of Music, an Operating Theatre and Sydney Opera House.)

Associate Choreographer & Rehearsal Director: Khyle Eccles has toured globally with numerous performance companies on large and small scale creations, including Block Party, Dance Theatre of Irelands; One Extraordinary Day, STREB Extreme Action Company; and (in)Visible Dancing Luca Silvistrini.

Combining vocal soundscapes and improvisation, #DC2SwanLake finds a dynamic synergy between movement, music and text.

4 - 5 August | Fri-Sat 7.45pm | Sat 3pm
Dance Connections2: Reflections in Swan Lake
Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London


A Teenage Opera - Youth Music Theatre UK

50 years in the making A TEENAGE OPERA has a long and fascinating history


This summer Youth Music Theatre UK proudly presents the world première production of their newest rock-opera, A Teenage OperaHear below how it all came about and what you can expect!

A Teenage Opera - rehearsals

Pete Gallagher - Writer

The music that never left the public consciousness

Many are still asking questions about where it went, the music has never left the public consciousness (Grocer Jack went to No. 1 in 26 countries) and neither has the question of why it never came to fruition. As always, the answers were beyond the 1967 participants' control.

A Teenage Opera - Keith West & Mark Wirtz
The 1960s were an explosive time

Listening to the original concept and inspiration for A Teenage Opera has been fascinating. These ideas came from another world - the 1960s were so explosive. I feel very honoured to have been entrusted with such a legendary project.

It was something of a labour of love

Mark Wirtz and Keith West are so full of fascinating stories; that they were recording in Abbey Road and using studio 'downtime' to try and get things done, you soon begin to realise it was something of a labour of love. They were able to stay playing with ideas into the night, because The Beatles were next door, who would work very late. As long as The Beatles were in the building keeping it open, Mark and Keith could continue!

A Teenage Opera - Julie Atherton, Stuart Rogers, Joe Louis Robinson
Expect a lot of amazing musical hidden gems

We've tried very hard to make A Teenage Opera appeal to all ages, some of the music has been given a facelift. Without giving too much away, the production is set in the now but centres around a town stuck in the 1960s; this has given us a lot of scope musically. There's also a sprinkling of opera melodies in there too - with a couple of the better known tunes from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman making an appearance. Expect a lot of amazing musical hidden gems, plenty of laughs, much reference to what might happen if you suddenly came into contact with people (seemingly) from 50 years in the future, and a barrel load of emotion.

We have the wonderful Julie Atherton directing this, Joe Louis Robinson as MD and Stuart Rogers choreographing. These are some of the finest young creatives in the UK. And arrangements by the amazing Michael Bradley, who is in China and across the world as Musical Director of The Bodyguard at the moment.

The Cast of A Teenage Opera

Harriet - Cast Member

I was absolutely thrilled to hear that I was to be part of the musical A Teenage Opera this year, as I love the1960s era. It will be hard work and long days but the more you put into rehearsals the more you get back. You really get a taste of what intense rehearsals for professional shows are like and the thrill of putting on a world première show is indescribable.

Q&A: meet the cast and creative team!

Don't miss your chance to find out all about the making of the musical on Saturday 12 August; there will be a Q&A straight after the matinee performance, where you will have the chance to talk to the creative team and cast members, including the original producer/composer, Mark Wirtz, over from the US, as well as rumored special guests!

Check out the trailer here!

A Teenage Opera will feature original classic hits from Mark Wirtz and Keith West, including the iconic song Grocer Jack (Except from A Teenage Opera), alongside a brand new book and additional lyrics by Pete Gallagher (Jesus Christ Superstar, Buddy). This long-awaited, musical spectacular will be directed by one of the West End’s foremost leading ladies, Julie Atherton (Avenue Q, Mama Mia). A Teenage Opera, South Hill Park Arts Centre, 11-13 Aug. Book Now

YMT's Summer Skills Courses - a parent's perspective


Summer Skills Courses are growing ever nearer, and we're looking forward to meeting a new talented group of young people in July and August, plus many familiar faces too. Whether aspiring star or participating for the enjoyment of learning new skills, for everyone involved we know it will be a transformative experience and the best adventure. The anticipation translates across to parents as well as young people, who for many, it's an exciting time too.

Hear below from the experiences of Liz Rameshni, parent of Lilya Rameshni, a YMT Skills Course Participant and brilliant young talent who completed Summer Skills Courses twice, in 2015 and 2016 and was involved in our production Let It Snow in London in 2016.

Liz Rameshni:

From my perspective, I think one of the best things about the Summer Skills courses is that anyone from the ages of 11 -21 can 'have a go'. There is no audition and so a child does not necessarily have to be aiming for a career on the West End stage, but may just have a keen interest in acting, singing and dancing.

In addition, I really like the residential aspect to the course because it helps to develop a sense of independence in a safe and supportive environment. It also means that Lilya spends a productive week in the summer holidays doing something she really enjoys and has the chance to gain a Grade 6 accreditation with the Trinity College London in Musical Theatre in Production.

I feel that Lilya gained a huge amount of confidence from the course and it was good for her to make some new friends all of whom have a similar interest in the performing arts. Working as a team and listening to others' ideas and points of view, are valuable life lessons. 

In Lilya`s opinion, it was the whole experience that she thoroughly enjoyed, but specifically, meeting new people, some of whom she has kept in contact with and was reunited with on the following year's course. The leaders were so welcoming and friendly and pitched it just right in terms of pushing her to get the very best from her. In addition, she enjoyed being able to have some input to the production with regards to 'blocking' and choreography. 

In terms of organisation from the very beginning the YMT team proved to be professional and efficient. All the information regarding accommodation and directions to the venue, was sent through in good time and was very clear. On arrival to the course on the first day, I found all the leaders and chaperones to be very pleasant and I felt reassured that Lilya would be in good hands.

We: Would you recommend a YMT skills course?

Liz Rameshni: Yes!!!


Hannah Nuttall: My experience with Youth Music Theatre


Our brilliant alumna Hannah Nuttall could be a perfect example of a young person with a dream who made it come true through her hard work, persistence and outstanding talent. After several YMT Summer Skills Courses Hannah Nuttall was involved in three Youth Musical Theatre productions: Force 9 and a Half, Great Expectation and Winter Tale. She graduated from London School of Music Theatre and continues to build her career as a musical actress.Theatre credits include: Happily Ever After from Teatro Technis, Made in Corby and many more.

We asked Hannah to share her memories about her time in YMT with us.

What was your favourite thing about time at YMT?
I don’t think I could pick just one thing! I have so many amazing memories from my time at YMT, from my first Skills Course with Eddie Latter and Jimmy Jewell, to my final performance of A Winters Tale at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. I remember when I got to perform the title song of A Winters Tale accompanied by the composer himself, Howard Goodall. I still to this day cannot believe I was given that opportunity, and I still have the photo! Something else very special about YMT is that you really do make friends for life. That fact that I get to see my friends from my Skills and Project courses perform in such amazing shows and venues, is something absolutely priceless.

Overall I would say that YMT allows you to work in an environment with professional directors, choreographer and musicians. They were all very keen to make sure we were professional in the rehearsal room, and respected each other, which was something I was taught at a very young age thanks to YMT. YMT definitely matured me, from a 13-year-old who had never been away from home, to a 16-year-old who understood what it was like to be in a professional environment. That is what makes YMT so unique.


Can you describe your experience of YMT including our Skills Courses?
The Skills Courses are very unique.  You’re there for just under a week, and create a brand new piece of theatre.  You get the opportunity to work very closely with the artistic staff.  It was my first time away from home, and I didn’t know what it would be like.  But as soon as you get there, you completely forget about all the worries you had, and just have fun!  All the staff at YMT are lovely, and are always on hand if you have any troubles.  All the participants on the course are there for the same reasons you are, and you really bond as a group.  I must’ve enjoyed it, because I went on to do five more within the space of three years! After my first Skills Course, I auditioned for the projects that go on throughout the summer. Being accepted onto a YMT Production was a very big step. Having auditioned for 3 years and being unsuccessful, once I got into my project I finally understood why it took time for me to gain a place. I then went on to participate in three projects, Force 9 1/2 in 2007, Great Expectations in 2008, and finally A Winters Tale in 2009. I then began my drama school journey.

What benefits did it bring you?
I can honestly say my performing career wouldn’t have been possible without my experiences with YMT.  Even from a young age, they taught me about professionalism.  It took me 3 years to get into a production; every year I would come back, never giving up on the dream. YMT has definitely given me a lesson for a lifetime; if at first you don’t succeed, always pick yourself up 10 times stronger.

Would you recommend it to someone else and if so why?
Absolutely! The experiences you gain whilst on a YMT Skills Course are invaluable. YMT is a family, I gained friends for life, and skills that will never be forgotten.  I am where I am today because of my experience with YMT, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing!


YMT National Auditions 2017

Be brave, be bold and give everything a really good go!


Choreographer and Independent Dance Artist Rachel Birch-Lawson has a wealth of professional experience, here are Rachel's AUDITION TIPS for all of you taking part this year in the YMT National Auditions 2017 (21 Jan - 19 Feb).

We try and make the auditions as fun and enjoyable as possible. Whatever happens, you will go away having learnt something, having met some new people and having tried something you wouldn’t otherwise have tired. 

All we ask is that you come and you are brave, and you give everything a really good go! Listen to Rachel's message here on YouTube

It doesn’t matter if you’ve had lots of performing experience, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never danced before. What we want to see is that you really try and give everything one hundred percent commitment, that’s really what we’re looking for in our company, for people who really give everything a go, because the harder you work, the better you become. 

1. Don’t apologise for anything you do in the audition room.
2. Be brave and be bold
3. Give everything a really good go!

And you can listen to Rachel's special message here on our YouTube channel.

YMT Auditions Rachel Birch-Lawson

Rachel Birch-Lawson is an independent dance artist, Rachel’s work spans dance, opera, theatre, and music theatre. Trained at London Contemporary Dance School, she was then selected for European choreographic programme Dance Beyond Borders.

Rachel is supported by organisations including Arts Council England, the British Council, South East Dance, and Lambeth Arts and has created works for companies including Tangled Feet, Opera a la Carte, Garsington Opera, and numerous independent projects. She has taught extensively in the UK, Europe, and Africa and is artistic director of Tall Tales Big Moves.

Step forward onto the stage and kick-start your career in performing arts with YMT. Auditions are booking now, from Sat 21 Jan - Sun 19 Feb 2017, touring 24 cities from Edinburgh to Manchester and London to Dublin and everywhere in-between. Take a look at the full list of dates and times here.