Scarlett is a star in the making

RECOGNISING and helping to develop talent at a young age is one of the joys of teaching.

Andrew Clarke

RECOGNISING and helping to develop talent at a young age is one of the joys of teaching. ANDREW CLARKE spoke to Amberfield School deputy head and drama teacher Helen Leeder and pupil Scarlett Saunders about auditioning for the National Youth Theatre.

TALENTED Suffolk schoolgirl Scarlett Saunders is gearing up for a life on stage having been accepted for a place at the prestigious National Youth Theatre.

With only 600 places available and with more than 4,000 youngsters auditioning for places, Scarlett's achievement is more amazing when you consider that she is only 13 - the youngest age that anyone can audition.

Helen Leeder, Scarlett's drama teacher and deputy head of Amberfield School, said that she had no doubts that Scarlett had the talent and the ability to join some of the most talented young actors from across Britain.

“From a very early age, it was evident that Scarlett had exceptional talent, a natural talent, and she has a great emotional feel for anything to do with literature, art and music. I could see that she had this amazing sensitivity, an awareness and this amazing passion for learning. When she performs a poem, sings a song or takes on a role in drama - she gives it everything.

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“Even at the tender age of 13, she has already taken on the role of Hermia in Mid-Summer Night's Dream and she has just played the lead in the school play - a role written with her in mind.”

She said that the play was an adaptation of the life of Margaret Catchpole and was chosen because the character was not only a Suffolk legend but because Margaret lived and worked in and around Nacton where Amberfield School is based. Helen said that it had always been her ambition to write a play which told the story of “the girl from Nacton”.

“It was obvious that the part of Margaret Catchpole was very important and as I wrote it I had Scarlett in mind as someone who could pull off the complex part and bring this local legend to life,” she said.

Scarlett was put through a series of demanding workshops and auditions to win a place in the theatrical company. Scarlett's first involvement with the NYT will be attending 11 days of workshops in London next Easter.

She said that she enjoys drama but is unsure whether she wants to make it a full-time career. “It's what I love doing, so I want to give it a try. I think I would regret it if I didn't do it. I think I will probably end up doing something connected with acting but I don't know what yet. I just want to give everything a try. I just want to have fun.”

She said that her grandmother, Signe Legge, found an advert in a magazine inviting applications to attend National Youth Theatre auditions and suggested her drama-loving grand-daughter apply.

“At first I wasn't sure if I wanted to go along and then the day before I learnt a speech and I just went along and did it. I really didn't expect anything much at all.”

Helen said that candidates are asked to memorise a speech from a play of their choice and perform it as part of their individual audition. Each audition is then assessed and compared with all the applicants throughout the UK.

Scarlett said the day started with very demanding and tiring workshops which lasted for about three hours but were great fun. “We did lots of voice warm-ups and tried different movement techniques. Focus and concentration were very important parts of each workshop. My drama lessons at school had prepared me well for all of this.

“My personal audition lasted about 20 minutes. I had to perform one of Abigail's speeches from the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller. After I had done it I was asked to perform it six more times using different forms of expression each time.

It was very challenging - but it was the best feeling I had ever had.

“There was a guy and a woman on the audition panel and it was more relaxed than I ever thought it would be. I was pretty nervous before I went in but I ended up having a pretty good time.”

This audition was accompanied by two hours of workshops which explored the applicants' abilities across a range of disciplines and explored how well they worked in groups.

She said that there are two courses - a junior course as well as a senior one. Scarlett will be attending a two-week residential acting course where she will be given an introduction into a wide range of theatrical experiences including ensemble work. Each course culminates in the presentation of a new piece of theatre which the course group devises during the fortnight.

They also get the opportunity to work with a professional theatre director. Scarlett said that she was excited about working alongside like-minded youngsters and having the opportunity to learn some of the tricks of the trade.

She said that after completing the summer senior course which is a residential course there would be an opportunity to audition for a part in a National Theatre production. The productions cover a wide range of different styles of theatre and range from classical works through to new writing. They also include regional outreach projects and films, all of which are staffed with trained professionals who are there to inspire, train and develop members.

Scarlett said that her confidence had soared since she had discovered drama at the school and was looking forward to learning even more with the National Youth Theatre.

Helen said that she was excited to see how Scarlett developed once she had been on a couple of National Youth Theatre courses. “Even now you put her on the stage and she always delivers the goods. She recently performed a poem at a concert that was only given two or three days ago and she was just brilliant.

“Scarlett most recently played the part of Young Meg in this term's Amberfield School theatrical performance of Honest Meg, an adaptation of the story of local girl Margaret Catchpole and her involvement with smugglers. It combined elements of Victorian melodrama with the fun of the silent film era to bring the story alive.

“In the end she shared the role with another girl - both were excellent I have to say. Both really took to the parts and gave me what I wanted back. It is a privilege to observe them as they build up new skills, make new friends and develop a sense of commitment to the project.”

Helen said that Scarlett's experience with the National Youth Theatre would also benefit theatre locally as Scarlett was also a member of the Suffolk Youth Theatre. She had already attended summer workshops and next year would be eligible to appear in the big summer production at the New Wolsey Theatre when she was 14.

Founded by former teacher and drama specialist Michael Croft in 1956, the National Youth Theatre is now an internationally acclaimed organisation offering youngsters the chance to develop their creative and social skills through the medium of the theatrical arts which includes acting as well as technical disciplines.

The company is under the patronage of HRH the Earl of Wessex. Its president, Lord Alli, was the brains behind Channel Four's Big Breakfast and the first of a new generation of New Labour working peers appointed to revolutionise the House of Lords.

Millionaire Waheed Alli, who was given a life peerage at the age of 34 in 1998, became the youngest and first openly gay peer in Parliament.

Fast Facts:

- The National Youth Theatre's mission is to provide creative and social skills for young people aged 13 to 21 from any background in the United Kingdom.

- Its aims are to reach out locally, regionally and nationally, breaking down social barriers.

You can apply for an audition online at

- The National Youth Theatre does not tend to do much work with musicals, preferring to teach the disciplines of drama.

- If you are interested in having more experience in musical theatre please contact YMT: UK or call National Association of Youth Theatres on 01325 363 330.

- The NYT's list of vice-presidents, who actively support the company's work, includes Dame Joan Plowright , Sir Michael Caine, Sir Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton, Sir Roger Moore, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir Elton John and Sir Ian McKellen.

- The list of leading stars who are former members of the NYT is also impressive. The list includes: Kate Adie, Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Day-Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Douglas Hodge, Ben Kingsley, Michael Kitchen, Gina McKee, Dame Helen Mirren, Diana Quick, Timothy Spall, David Suchet, Liza Tarbuck, Jamie Theakston, Simon Ward, Paula Wilcox, Michael York and Sir Derek Jacobi and more recently, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Catherine Tate and Orlando Bloom.