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Willy Russell creates mayhem for Theatre Royal musical

PUBLISHED: 13:40 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:40 25 August 2017

Beth Tuckey with members of the young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal

Beth Tuckey with members of the young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal

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Bury Theatre Royal is offering young actors a summer holiday experience like no other, an opportunity to work in a professional musical. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to director Karen Simpson

James Hirst as Mr Briggs, the authoritarian assistant head teacher, with the young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal James Hirst as Mr Briggs, the authoritarian assistant head teacher, with the young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal

Youth productions in our theatres are nothing new but the opportunity for talented youngsters to appear in a full scale production alongside professional actors doesn’t happen very often.

This is an experience which is being offered over the next 10 days by the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds as they stage a new adaptation of the Willy Russell play Our Day Out.

Directed by Karen Simpson, the theatre’s artistic director, assisted by David Whitney, who runs the theatre’s youth programme, the play has been up-dated, re-worked by its author and turned into a full scale musical.

Karen Simpson at work in the rehearsal room. Karen Simpson at work in the rehearsal room.

Willy Russell, creator of such West End hits as Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine and Blood Brothers, has a legacy of returning to plays and reworking them. Both Blood Brothers and Our Day Out started life as plays, then became plays with music before ending up as full-blown musicals.

Karen Simpson said that the addition of music to both these classic dramas increases the audiences emotional involvement and boosts the impact Russell’s words.

“It started life as a BBC Play for Today in 1987, starring a young Colin Welland, and it’s a play that made a big impact on me. Willy Russell then re-wrote it for the Liverpool Everyman theatre and songs were placed within it but it wasn’t a proper musical.

The young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal The young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal

“That version became the bible of GCSE drama in the 1990s, then when Liverpool became the City of Culture, he re-wrote it as a musical and that’s the version we are doing here. As far as I am aware it has never been performed outside Liverpool, so it will be a real first for us staging it in Bury.”

The play follows the antics of Mrs Kay’s unruly progress class as they leave behind the harsh realities of their day to day lives and experience a day out in the countryside. For many it be a day out they will never forget.

It’s a trip featuring a day out at the zoo, a trip round a castle, a visit to the beach along with the dramas of finding packed lunches and running rings round rather frazzled teachers.

The young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal The young company taking part in the Willy Russell musical Our Day Out at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Photo: Theatre Royal

As with all Willy Russell’s plays, Our Day Out mixes humour, satire and drama in a unique blend which reminds everyone of their own lives and upbringing. “The secret of Willy Russell’s success is that he writes about real people, people he knows, people he grew up with. Equally importantly, he makes you care about these people, he gives them fun, entertaining things to say but he also has a knack of making you stop and think, of sometimes making you cry but you always come out having been entertained.

“I think it was important that we cast young people as the school children rather than young adults and by doing that we could offer these talented youngsters something special, the opportunity to appear in a fully-staged professional theatre production, it’s a very rare opportunity and I am delighted to say that our cast of 16 young actors are rising to the challenge of a very hectic rehearsal schedule and are seizing the opportunity to make the most of the experience.

“The talent on stage is amazing and we are delighted with how quickly they are picking things up. They are very focussed and very dedicated.”

Working alongside David Whitney is Beth Tuckey, who is playing teacher Mrs Kay, and who has extensive experience of working with young actors having youth drama groups both in London and Suffolk.

Karen said that it was important that the theatre was seen to be part of the community and was offering something valuable, to help people from all walks of life blossom. “It’s important to help people realise their skills and give them confidence. We are not just offering young people opportunities to appear on stage, we also have a group of young creative people who wanted to learn about what goes on backstage, to discover what needs to happen to allow a theatre to put on a musical.

“Our Day Out is a bit of gift really. Because it allows us to stage a full-scale musical, offering our audiences something that they wouldn’t have seen before, while at the same time reaching out to the community, harnessing the talents of young people, and offering the rare opportunity to work in a professional environment.”

Our Day Out is at Bury Theatre Royal until September 2. More arts features can be found on pages 35-39

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