Shetland Youth Theatre has been producing exciting, challenging and imaginative performances for over 20 years. Productions have been diverse, from plays written specifically for the company, to adaptations of Shakespeare, Shetland Dialect works, musicals and a wide range of site-specific performance. Participants have travelled with productions to Inverness, Dublin, London and Copenhagen. SYT operates an open-door policy and participants range from 11-25.

Each year the group puts on one large production, giving the participants the opportunity to devise and develop a piece, working alongside a professional director and crew. Last year we met with John Haswell to discuss plans for our 2017 production, and he mentioned the idea of basing the piece around the First World War, from a Shetland perspective. A few months later and we had secured funding from the National Lottery’s Heritage Lottery Fund to produce a moving and immersive performance based on poetry from WW1.

John Haswell, director and writer, spent the first month of the project researching stories from Shetland and further afield for the production. He worked with Shetland Museum and Archives, and local experts such as Jon Sandison to find poems and archive materials to develop into the show’s narrative. He finally settled on 32 poems from writers across the world, but relatively unknown Shetland poets wrote the majority of the pieces.

The call went out for participants in this production, and 27 young people signed up for the demanding series of workshops and rehearsals. John Haswell took them through an intense workshopping process, where they looked at certain poems in detail and devised responses to the emotive content.

Tired Teens to Traumatised Troops - blog post by cast member Molly Williams

“Shetland Youth Theatre (SYT) met once again to continue work on our latest show "In the Still of the Night Have we Wept". Scripts were issued, first few lines assigned and placements on stage decided. A beginning to a show exploring how the war affect us, emotionally and physically.

The opening of any production takes time to perfect with SYT laying down the foundation and ploughing through the beginning section of the script, from practising looking bored to crafting emotional movement in response the soldiers fighting in the trenches. The cast created noises to fit the scenes whether it be the clacking of mothers’ knitting needles to the marching of soldiers.

Groups interpreted the script in different ways to create pieces of choreographed movement before selecting a final style and using it to show a range of images and feelings, whilst trying to avoid the ever tempting, comic relief, of jazz hands.

The rehearsal came to a close with the cast left mostly on the floor, like troops lying in the trenches

From teenagers, to mothers waving off their sons, to trench rats, SYT march on in their quest for a thought provoking and reflective piece of drama to mark the centenary of the first world war.”

As the workshops moved into rehearsals, lines and parts were assigned and the cast had the difficult task of memorising 32 poems and learning to speak verse in a natural way. The piece came together through exploration of words, sound, song and movement, as our volunteer assistant Freya Garden explains.

Trust Your Fellow Troops - Blog post by Freya Garden

“As rehearsals continue for SYT’s ‘In the Still of the Night Have We Wept’, it was time to focus on a key part of every single production – movement.

Movement is such an amazing tool of expression and visual storytelling. With an age range of 11 to 21 in the company, there is a wide variety of skills between them. Their experience in different types of dancing, gymnastics and athletics came in useful whilst creating this section of the play. The inspiration for the segment of movement was the poems ‘The Toll of War’ and “The Waste” with the harrowing imagery of what happened to troops in the trenches when a bomb blast went off.

The cast branched into small groups and began devising moving tableaux. After a lot of initial giggling at the prospect of bending in strange shapes and reiterating the trust that the other members of your group won’t drop you by accident, the cast found their focus and tried out lots of different things. By using the strengths and advantages of individuals in their small groups and supporting each other, they came up with fantastic shapes and created flowing movements which when held in a brief tableau were eerily powerful and reminiscent of old photographs of the battle-strewn trenches.

Having now covered nearly a quarter of the script, it’s really starting to look and feel like a show. The powerful messages that come from the poems is driving raw emotion from the company and their understanding of the responsibility of what they are conveying is both humbling and honest.”

A key element to the production was the projection of imagery from the First World War. With help from local experts, the team pulled together hundreds of incredible images to use in the piece. Assistant Freya Garden and our Creative Apprentice turned Shetland Arts Technician Liam Brannan spent a lot of time putting together this element of the show. Liam was also indispensable as the Technician for the performance. The piece became very complex, with over 400 technical cues in its 70-minute running time. Local musicians also contributed hugely, with students from our HNC and NC Music courses and local professionals composing emotive and interesting pieces for use in the production.

Rehearsal time ended and the show went on the road. The production premiered to a small but very appreciative audience in Baltasound, Unst, before travelling back down to the Garrison the next evening. The group then finished the show’s run in Walls, and in each location, it received an incredible reaction from the audience.

Review in i’i Shetland

“It takes a lot of skill and talent to produce a performance which will stick in the minds of anyone who witnesses it. However, that is what Shetland Youth Theatre have managed to achieve alongside John Haswell… The production sought to build a bridge between the reactions at the time and the reactions of today’s young people. The group studied the poetry of the Great War and found the emotions expressed within them were still relevant in the present day… Members of the production urged the audience to consider the atrocities of the Great War and other battles, and to remember those lost and those affected by them.”

Review in Shetland Times

“Shetland Youth Theatre, with the visionary stewardship, direction and research of John Haswell and his team have produced something memorable… the poetry of those who went through the experience of the trenches, as well as those left to worry on the homefront, was hauntingly brought to life with powerful and intense emotion. This performance won’t be forgotten by any who witnessed it. Director Haswell and the youth of Shetland have put together a remarkable performance, which is timeless and emotive. The personal expressions of those from home who experienced war have been brought back to life; driven by a special young cast who breathed every single emotion of those words.”

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