By Ben Ayaydin
Another great year at the National Theatre’s Connections Festival has been and gone. Friday night started off with Dawn King’s Salt, directed by Bridie Smith and performed by Dimensions Performance Academy from Pontypridd in South Wales.
Salt’s premise was immediately intriguing: a group of teenagers embark upon a new government apprenticeship scheme which sees them leave behind their old life in exchange for the chance to train and learn skills overseas. However once on board the transport ship, the promises of the glossy advert seem a far cry from what lies ahead.
The story focuses on the journey of 6 teenage girls, each with their own distinct personalities. For instance, there was Abbie’s pessimistic outlook on life, Carys’ over the top energy and Kaz’s sarcasm. All these personalities really complemented each other and added an interesting dynamic to the characters, especially when they are forced to live in close quarters with one another leading to inevitable conflict. All credit goes to the cast, who were able to effectively capture the distinctive personalities of their characters.
Since all of the play takes place aboard a ship, it was interesting to see how this would be expressed through the set. The set design was simple and consisted of a couple of beds, a long rope and some barrels. Despite its minimalist nature, I felt the design really complemented the play’s nautical theme, adding to the sense of being on a ship without detracting too much from the casts’ performances. The dynamic use of the beds and rope to create different sets, whether portraying a dorm room or the top deck of the ship, was a really creative design choice that I particularly enjoyed. In addition to this, sound and lighting effects were also used at some points during the play to further create an immersive ship environment for the cast to harness into their performances. In particular, the backing tracks to the online tests the characters had to undergo, was a fantastic comic feature, with songs such as Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 and the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune being used to great effect.
The acting was another strong point. I loved the enthusiasm of the cast and I feel this came across in their performances. There was a strong chemistry amongst the group and this definitely showed and aided their performance. Most importantly, the play looked fun and I feel the energy and vibrancy of the show really translated through to the audience.
I enjoyed the themes and ideas Dawn King expressed within this play, particularly in an age of ‘fake news’, the play became very relevant and it was interesting to see the parallels drawn between the play and today’s world. For instance, the acted out FAS (the government apprenticeship scheme) adverts were slightly robotic and over the top to indicated their staged and false nature, demonstrating parallels with false advertising experienced today. Furthermore, the play raises questions and draws attention to aspects within our own society. For instance, Carys’ tries to solve problems using a trouble shooting website rather than relying on her own skills, a possible reference to today’s society where we are often far too reliant on technology and mobile phones than using our own intuition and common sense. At times, the play often reminded me of Lord of the Flies, in regard to it revealing true human nature: both the good and the bad.
My only critique of the play was that I felt the resolution was a bit short, however what we were given was satisfactory enough to the narrative as a whole, with the quick resolution of the play’s ending being a necessary sacrifice due to time constraints. It is a credit to the play’s narrative and the cast’s world building, that it left me wanting more!
The National Theatre’s Connections festival is a nationwide youth theatre festival and is the largest in the UK. Ten UK schools and youth theatre companies are given the opportunity to stage ten new plays, each taking place in the Dorfman Theatre.
Applications are now open to take part in next year’s Connections Festival. The National Theatre is looking for 300 school and youth theatre companies across the UK to take part. For more information and to sign up, please visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/connections
Photo Credit: National Theatre