‘This shows what’s happening to real people’: young Norfolk actors tackle hard-hitting criminal justice play
PUBLISHED: 09:30 23 February 2018
supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal
How are children and adults impacted by the criminal justice system? New play [BLANK] aims to explore just that as young people from the region explore the raw reality of life in 2018.
Moving, challenging and sometimes disturbing [BLANK] explores the impact the criminal justice system has on adults and children.
A series of scenes about what life is like when adults feel absent from it and the often cyclical nature of violence, incarceration, and of the children who are inevitably left behind - the unacknowledged victims of crime.
The production is being put together as part of the National Theatre’s Connections 2018 project, an annual festival of new plays for youth theatres and schools across the country, and is being staged with a young cast at Norwich Theatre Royal’s Stage Two from March 1-3.
An innovative and challenging piece of theatre the new play has been penned by Alice Birch, the hotly tipped writer who won much acclaim last year when she adptated Nikolai Leskov’s 19th-century Russian novella, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk, for the film Lady Macbeth, portrayed with scorching intensity by rising 19-year-old British acting star Florence Pugh.
Members of Norwich Theatre Royal’s Youth Company, with the help of director Asa Cannell, whittled down a choice of 60 different scenes to 18. They do not follow on from each other in the style of a conventional play but they are all linked by their focus on the impact of violence and crime on young people.
Cast-member Amelia Stephanides explained: “There isn’t actually a narrative to [Blank] itself. It focuses on young people, the presence of the wrong type of adult or the absence of the right type of adult. Each scene is completely separate and should be treated like that when watching but they do have a strong similarity in the issues they are tackling.”
And these similarities tackle some tough subjects including grooming, under-age relationships, violence and the impact of crime.
Fellow cast-member Izzy Fryman said: “I struggled with one scene called Ryvita which tackles the topic of not having the right adult around, or indeed any adult at all. It is very sensitive and raw because it looks at a child who is really low and drinking under-age.
“It can be difficult to get into the mind-set of the character because you can’t directly relate to it. You have to think how you would feel in that situation. How would I deal with being left on my own for a month or two with no food?”
As well as empathy, some of the cast have been able to get a practical insight into their roles from friends and family. Charlie O’Brien plays a policeman and father who is working with abuse victims and was able to talk to a relative who is in a similar line of work about supporting victims. He said the play takes the audience through a range of emotions from humour to fear but it also aims to be realistic.
“This is not a fun-to-watch story but it is something that is happening to real people. It shows that lots of different people are going through the experiences we show.”
And Isaac Byram, who also stars in the production, said: “It has been quite a challenging process in terms of the characterisation. It is very similar to a production we did last year called Extremism which also put a mirror up to society and said these sorts of things go on. To an older audience, we can also say this sort of thing is going on and there is a way out of it.”
Explaing why she flet people needed to see [Blank], Amelia Stephanides added: “Alice Birch is just such an incredible writer. It is also called [Blank] because the play is a blank canvas and you paint it however you want to paint it. That is the most brilliant thing about it and people really need to get down and see it.”
• [Blank] is at Stage Two, Norwich Theatre Royal, March 1-3, 7.30pm, £10 (£8.50 cons), 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk