The Everyman and Playhouse has a strong heritage when it comes to youth theatre, with a few variations of Everyman Youth Theatre stretching from the seventies to the noughties and a new combined youth theatre now up and running for a couple of years.

Illyria is the culmination of 2012s short Spring season for the Young Everyman and Playhouse (YEP), a short play concerning a young female journalist caught up in a civil war in a fictional, war-torn country. There to interview a dictator’s wife, she somehow ends up with the madam of the country’s dictator in a safe house that’s anything but safe.

It’s a promising set-up and the script allows the young, very talented cast to be inventive with sound effects and the way the background players act as a chorus, acting out the stories being recounted and scenes that journalist Maria describes – their theatrics and physicalities rather like the players in Berkoff’s Oedipus, seen at the Playhouse last year.

However, whether a fault of the script or the direction, it was virtually impossible to discern who was playing what part, as most of the cast doubled up in a number of roles. That didn’t detract from performances, but it did make the narrative a tad hard to follow.

What’s more, the lessons of Illyria seem startlingly trite and not a little heavy-handed. Not only that but much of the play is simply rather hard to believe – it seems to have been written as an exercise which, to some extent, it was given that it was written for a theatre competition.

That might make for an unfulfilling script, but it certainly lets the young cast flex their muscles – like musical exercises build up memory, skill and flair through repetition, expanding range and graduated difficulty.

Perhaps you can see the workings at times, but the cast were more impressive than we expected, and we didn’t exactly go in with low expectations. There’s drama, violence and even comedy – played confidently by the cast, who didn’t miss a beat.

Illyria has the stamp of Everyman and Playhouse quality and made for superb entertainment in the enigmatic Playhouse studio. A hit then? YEP.

Playhouse Studio
Until Saturday 21 April

Image by Brian Roberts

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