When deciding what shows to see at Edinburgh I was pleased to add the latest offering from Aquila Youth Theatre to my schedule. I saw and enjoyed their production of The Jungle Book last year and I was pleased to see that, this year, an informative programme was provided to the audience.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear is a lesser-known story by Michael Morpurgo, and Aquila showed great initiative in getting permission to adapt it. It is an intense story that deals with some difficult themes but within a context understandable to the young cast; it was clear throughout that they had investigated all the issues involved. No adapter or indeed director was credited, but once again it is clear that there was much skill involved since the performance was impressive.
The playing area at Space Triplex is quite large with the audience sitting on three sides, and it was slightly disappointing that the cast had been directed to play to the middle block only, with sight-lines much poorer for those of us at the sides. This was only a minor problem however, and other directorial decisions were exemplary, with set-pieces like the rugby match and the fights, and especially the attack by the bull, staged with great economy and discipline.
That discipline was also evident among the cast, which contained no weak links whatsoever, and voice and diction were good throughout, though it would be good to persuade all members of the cast to stand still rather than pacing back and forth as a few did. The older cast members, playing adults, perhaps had the most challenging task. All were convincing, however, with the teachers nicely differentiated and the Head and his family were a believable group. Perhaps the most impressive actor among this group was Emilie Harper as the no-nonsense but kindly Matron.
The younger cast members portrayed school pupils and local children, and also managed all the set changes. Their acting was impressive, and that includes the times when they had nothing to say; it is always a test of a young actor to see if the acting continues when the focus moves away, and that was certainly the case here.
Carrying much of the acting load were Attie Christie-Miller as a vulnerable and troubled Jenkins and Ben Trunck in a performance of great stillness and power as Christopher. Quin Downes owned the stage when called upon to deliver his asides as Swann and has the stage presence of a much older boy. As Wanda, Lucy Bland delivered a convincing cameo, and Tadhg Begley played her brother superbly, with a wholly convincing air of menace and suppressed fury.
Sadly, I saw the last performance of this production at Edinburgh but I am sure Aquila will be back next year, so look out for them. There is a good adaptation, for example, of The Lord of the Flies which I am sure would suit their considerable talents if they have not done it already…