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New Views Festival 2024 – National Theatre

The sporting world has ways of forcing through a winner one way or another, whether it’s tennis tie-breaks or football penalty shootouts. Lord Sugar wanted to propose joint winners a few years ago for the BBC One reality game show The Apprentice: the producers told him no. Even General Elections have, within living memory, resulted in a ‘hung parliament’, in which arguably there are no winners at all, but that is another discussion for another time. The judging panel for this year’s New Views Festival couldn’t decide on a single winner, so instead opted for two – both very different, and considerably more nuanced and perceptive than one might expect from teenage writers who may not have necessarily even decided whether playwriting is something they wish to pursue as a career in adulthood.

House on Fire by 2024 winning playwright Luke Fields (c) Emma Hare.
House on Fire by 2024 winning playwright Luke Fields (c) Emma Hare.

House on Fire featured Caitlin Kearney (Rachael Rooney) and Stephen Quinn (Michael Drake), head girl and head boy respectively of a school apparently on the verge of mutiny because a significant number of fellow pupils are against them being their representatives. Whether they were appointed or elected is a secondary issue: with an increasing amount of chaos and antisocial behaviour, and they being perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the cause of it, what will become of them? Ms Fitzpatrick (Mairead McKinley), the school secretary, is at her desk in the school office, with Caitlin and Stephen there because they are waiting to be seen by the headteacher, Mr McNab. The counter-plotting and scheming against the plotting and scheming is a sight to behold. There’s more than a touch of absurdism about this hilarious play, and the conflict Caitlin and Stephen face between doing the ‘right’ thing and saving their own skin has many parallels in many places.

Teulu (pronounced ‘tay-lee’) is centred around Owen (Joseph Benjamin Baker) and does well to demonstrate the meaning of ‘teulu’ in its Welsh context – Google it and ‘teulu’ translates as ‘family’, although this extends beyond the idea of a biological family. Owen’s is the sort of community where more or less everyone knows more or less everyone else, which is both a blessing and a curse. ‘Everyone’ knows Owen’s mother died, leaving Wyn (Rhodri Mellir) to single parent. But Owen has become largely withdrawn, confining himself to his bedroom and watching Freeview channels. His uncle Greg (Phaldut Sharma) is invited by Wyn to come over and cheer him up, which he duly does, but there are unintended consequences to his outgoing nature, especially when alcohol is involved. Help comes from an unlikely source, and there’s much comic relief from Owen’s classmate Luke (James Bamford), a walking encyclopaedia who enjoys distilling knowledge on any given subject at length. It was raw, gritty and engaging stuff.

The post-show discussion shed some light on the writing and rehearsal processes: Luke Fields had come up with the names of the characters in his play by choosing names of people he didn’t know (surprisingly, he doesn’t know anyone called Stephen). Emyr Strudwick brought the house down by simply saying he used a ‘Welsh baby name generator’ online. They were, of course, very much ‘crème de la crème’, being the winners of a competition that had 500 submissions, and there was the feeling that they would go on to become successful in whatever career path they settle on when the time comes. A worthwhile afternoon, this was a rare opportunity to go into one of the National Theatre’s rehearsal spaces and see works by possible playwrights of the future.

Review by Chris Omaweng

The afternoon featured staged readings of this year’s two winning playwrights. House on Fire was written by Luke Fields, a 17-year-old from Belfast, and was directed by Emily Burns. Teulu was written by Emyr Strudwick, a 19-year-old from South Wales, and was directed by Director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris. The post show Q&A featured both playwrights and directors and was chaired by Ola Animashawun, National Theatre Associate & Connections Dramaturg.

The 2024 New Views Festival featured staged readings of the two winning plays, rehearsed readings of the seven shortlisted plays and additional opportunities for schools including Archive tours and workshops organised by the National Theatre Young Producers.

New Views Festival 2024
The National Theatre’s playwriting competition for 14 to 19-year-olds
Thursday 4 and Friday 5 July 2024

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