WHEN the curtain fell on ENCORE at the Theatre Royal last year, there was no way of anticipating the year that lay ahead of them.

The youth ensemble originally planned to celebrate their 40th anniversary, but that fell apart because of the pandemic.

Despite theatres going dark across the country, ENCORE members decided to use lockdown to do something positive, making sure that they were still connected with each other and doing something creative.

The result is a new musical, Dark and Bright, which tells a contemporary, life-affirming story that gives a powerful voice to young people living through the challenges of recent times.

Young performers have worked with artistic director Noël Jones to devise the characters, storyline, and script, which uses the words and experiences of the cast themselves.

Original music has been composed by William Pickering, himself a former member of ENCORE, whilst the lyrics are the result of a dazzling partnership between Hannah Castleman, also a former member, and Julian Payne, a parent to two members.

Noël said: “Dark and Bright is a celebration of family, friendship and love which is an absolute reflection of ENCORE itself. We are so lucky to work with the most inspiring, brave, and talented young people. They have been so positive and committed to this show, despite all the challenges that have been thrown at them over the last year.

“It’s about a young man whose world is turned upside down following the death of his mother. Feeling lost and alone, he pushes everyone who loves him away until he is approached by a pair of mysterious strangers. Both offer Xander the hand of friendship, but one of them will lead him down a dark path whilst the other will guide him to a brighter place. The question is: whose hand will he take?”

Member of the company, Tallulah, said: "It’s a really important story to tell, because it addresses lots of issues that are facing young people today, including mental health, friendship, identity and love.

"We wanted to be able to bring these things to people’s attention because they are so important to talk about, not hide away from. To be able to do it through musical theatre, is extremely powerful and sends out some incredibly positive and strong messages."

Dark and Bright runs at Theatre Royal Winchester on June 2, 3 and 4.

Visit the theatre's website for tickets.

Musical Director and Producer, Harriet Morris, also a former ENCORE member, said: “We are so excited to be premiering our show at the Theatre Royal, which has been home to so many of our performances over the last 40 years. We hope that audiences will take the story of Xander and his friends to their hearts, and that other youth theatres will be inspired to perform Dark and Bright for years to come.

"Tickets are limited though because of social distancing at the moment, so book soon to avoid missing out on this extraordinary and uplifting live theatre performance.”