Young writers celebrated in South East London

At Greenwich Theatre we support some of the country’s most promising emerging writers and theatre companies as they find ever new ways to tell stories. In the months ahead we have real-life doppelgängers Eugénie and Shamira presenting a show about looking the same, though it will be as much a gig as a play. We have ZooCo coming in September with Sirens, their tale of three sirens exiled from Ancient Greece, only to find themselves washed up on Hastings beach in 2018. We have also just announced a visit to Greenwich for 2Magpies with Ventoux, their unique theatrical recreation of Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani’s drug-fuelled Tour de France race at the fearsome Ventoux mountain.

However, in the past couple of weeks I have seen, or been lucky enough to be a part of, a range of local events aimed at developing even younger writers in the area.

On 15 & 16 June the Greenwich Book Festival returned, and with it came the return of the student playwriting showcase. On one day, fourteen student writers from the university’s playwriting course had the rare opportunity of seeing their new plays performed to a public audience by a cast of twenty professional and student actors. The range of plays was astonishing to see. There was comedy that could have come from the era of Steptoe & Son sitting alongside the dark comedy more associated with The League Of Gentlemen. Current issues of equality, gender and parenthood were all featured, while one writer went back in time to explore the experience of marrying a WWII soldier with PTSD. However, what united them all was a clear sense of ambition, and there is no doubt that the experience of seeing their work performed will have a huge impact on those emerging writers.

Greenwich Book Festival play readings – from the wings

Then on 18 June I attended an event at Blackheath High School, linked to the National Theatre’s New Voices project. Pupils from the school, along with guest pupils from Woolwich Polytechnic, had written plays within the scheme, and thanks to a grant from HSBC the school was able to bring in a team of professional actors for an evening of readings of the pupils’ work. Again the diversity was amazing, from surrealism to up-to-the-minute realism, political commentary to social observation, and all from a group of teenage writers.

Finally this week I was back at Charlton Manor Primary School to work with the Year Five drama group, an initiative that has been running for over a year and which sees a number of pupils each term learning a range of drama skills and performing a new play to their peers at the end of term. Each play is different and is written by the group, and this time the play is set to be a classic mystery – The Case Of The Missing Diamond – about the investigation that leads to the capture of a jewel thief in a school.

If all of this proves anything to me, it is the vast array of storytellers that exist among local young people – and the value of each of these schemes is their validation of storytelling as a means to express yourself. All of these young people have something to say, whether about the world or to entertain the world, and seeing so many of them given these opportunities and sharing their work has been a privilege.

James Haddrell is the artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

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