National Youth Theatre brings Animal Farm to Shropshire countryside

The magic and mayhem of live theatre is returning to Shropshire as the National Youth Theatre aims to put on a show.

Members of the National Youth Theatre Animal Farm cast rehearsing for the show, but without their full costumes on
Members of the National Youth Theatre Animal Farm cast rehearsing for the show, but without their full costumes on

The National Youth Theatre (NYT) is returning to Soulton Hall near Wem to host its production of Animal Farm, adapted from George Orwell’s classic novel.

Tim Ashton, owner of Soulton Hall, wanted to help the theatre industry through the Covid-19 pandemic and so built an amphitheatre in the grounds of his farm and aptly named it The Sanctuary.

The NYT’s production of Animal Farm will run until June 19 and the cast and crew have been rehearsing at Soulton Hall in the sunshine this week, preparing for the first night, when they will properly don their costumes and greet live audiences once again.

Will Stewart, from Kent, is one of the NYT’s REP company members. The 23-year-old said being in front of a live audience again has been brilliant.

Will Ationo plays Boxer and Jack Matthew plays Napoleon
Rehearsals for the outdoor show

“It's very different,” he said. “Before we started rehearsals, things had adapted as I was doing work on Zoom but it wasn't the same. It's always better to be out performing in front of people live.

“Coming to Shropshire to do this is amazing, this new space born out of lockdown is just great. Tuesday was our first day here actually rehearsing in the space and it's brilliant to be here. Especially on the site of a farm and our play is set on a farm, it's great to be in this glorious countryside. It will hopefully be a fantastically immersive experience.”

The production of Animal Farm, adapted by Tatty Hennessy and directed by Ed Stambollouian, has toured in Northampton and London before making its way to Shropshire this summer.

Will said the stage at Soulton Hall is all open so the audience can see actors jumping in and out, making it an exciting set up.

The stage at Soulton Hall, near Wem

“It can be so difficult and mind-numbing doing things on Zoom,” he added. “The thing you get from doing work in front of people is the live response. It's almost like you create a relationship with the audience.

“The audience will sometimes laugh at something you didn't realise was funny. Then you will try and replicate it the next night, and it doesn't work on a different audience. It's so interesting.”

Sian Davila, marketing manager at NYT, said: “It all started from a conversation between Tim and our CEO, Paul Roseby, after Tim had created this space as a response to lockdown and being able to bring theatre to local people.

“Tim is very passionate about it, as is Paul. We were here last year for our show The Last Harvest and it's really nice to return.”

Rehearsals for the outdoor show

Adeola Yemitan, from Croydon, said she feels privileged to be able to bring the show to Shropshire and perform for people once again.

“We have been rehearsing since around November time with tight Covid restrictions and conditions in place but inviting an audience in is a crazy moment for us after so long,” she said.

“It changes the whole experience of the show. It is so exciting because we spent so much time thinking about whether we will or won't be able to perform.

“I feel very privileged to have rehearsed through Covid and to be able to share the work we have been doing. This show might be the first people have been in over a year.

“I worked in architecture before I went into acting, and I had no idea about the National Youth Theatre and it has changed my life.”

The show is on until June 19. To buy tickets visit the National Youth Theatre website.

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