Basingstoke Youth Theatre

Coram Boy

The Haymarket 

FOR one night only, a company of 24 young people presented Coram Boy at The Haymarket.

The play by Helen Edmundson, based on the novel by Jamila Gavin, was performed at the National Theatre a few years ago; this was the first production of the play in this country by a youth company and it happened here in Basingstoke!

It was good to see the youth of the town taking full advantage of the precious amenity that is The Haymarket. There was an impressive line-up of professional support from Anvil Arts, Proteus Theatre Company and Central Studio all working together.

There are no auditions necessary to be part of this company and everyone gets a part in a production – sometimes three – such as Meabh Howell who showed great versatility by playing Molly Jenkins, a mother and a choir boy, and Alex Biehn, who was a choir boy, a Coram child and a hangman!

The part of Thomas Ledbury was performed by Dan Bentall and Nicholas Hyatt played Alexander Ashbrook. These two boys showed a good deal of natural talent and their friendship from childhood through to manhood was utterly convincing.

Holly Sephton, who played Mrs Lynch, had great stage presence; she showed tremendous sensitivity when she had a chance to explain to us the dark side of life at the Coram Orphanage.

Edward Howard Jones who took the part of Dr. Smith the choirmaster gave a remarkably mature performance, as did Rory Burns who, bewigged and dressed in 18th Century costume, made a very believable Handel.

It was a pleasant surprise hearing several excerpts from The Messiah woven so cleverly into the play. Ali Willis, who is a tutor at QMC, was the musical coordinator and the use of harpsichord and organ music (admittedly produced electronically and recorded) was very effective in helping set the scene.

The set design by Nick Ash did this too – although the balcony and stairs on either side did present the young actors with a challenge when it came to audibility; some of them managed it rather well but it was a ‘work in progress’ for others.

The girls and boys in the company obviously relished the 18th century costumes that Sam Pine had found for them and they looked disarmingly elegant in the ballroom scene.

This normality in the first half contrasted sharply with some of the more distressing scenes in the second when the truth gradually emerges as to what really happened to the stolen or abandoned children.

Director Ross Harvie decided to use life-size puppets, created by puppeteer Nick Ash, to play the parts of the two children Alice and Edward Ashbrook. Evelyn Blackwell and Grace Blakeley spoke the parts and they had been well trained to operate the puppets; this worked so well.

The creative team of 18 specialists led by Ross Harvie and Sarah Brown must be very pleased with what the young people achieved. Such a pity ‘the play with music’ was only on for one night.

Hannah Williams