Blue Stockings, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Host in NYT trio at The Yard
Written by Zoe Paskett

A new season of work from the National Youth Theatre (NYT) running throughout August comes to Hackney Wick’s Yard Theatre.

The first ever East End season sees some of the country’s best young actors performing in three productions at the Yard.

One of the young actors taking part in the season is Muswell Hill’s Daisy Edgar-Jones. The 19 year old has been part of the NYT since she was 15.

“I always loved drama and my mum heard about the company and she was like ‘you should just audition for the experience’,” she says. “It’s quite hard to get in and a lot of people apply. I went along to the audition not really knowing what to expect and had the best day ever and was lucky enough to get in. It was my mum really; I’ve got a lot to thank her for!”

Edgar-Jones is playing the part of April in the Yard’s first play in the series, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Based on Mohsin Hamid’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel, the NYT first produced the show at the Finsborough Theatre last year.

The play follows Changez, a Princeton graduate born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, who is now living and working in New York, a high achiever in a consultancy firm. He falls for a bereaved student, but the change occurs when the Twin Towers are attacked and he becomes gradually disenchanted with the West as he is treated with increasingly more suspicion.

“It’s all about someone’s struggle to live in a place they feel unwelcome because of somebody else’s actions,” says Edgar-Jones. “It’s very topical at the minute. I think it’s quite an important story to tell.”

She is joining a cast who have worked together already on the previous incarnation of this play and is excited to be taking on a different role to those she normal has.

“My character, she’s not very nice,” says Edgar-Jones, laughing. “She’s very much a product of the aftermath of 9/11 in that she sums up the intolerance that started to grow in New York and America in general after the attacks. She very much looks down on Changez and is fearful of him as well.

“It’s nice to be cast as a character quite far from me, because it really feels like you’re giving a performance. I usually get cast as the smiley one!”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist runs from August 8 to 12.

Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings is up next at the Yard, following the battle at Girton College Cambridge in 1896 to allow women the right to graduate.

Directed by Alice Knight, the female students go through their first year at university, encountering prejudices based on their gender and class, culminating in the day the vote is put to the senate at Cambridge.

“It feels like the themes are really contemporary and feel really palpable in the world we live in,” says Knight. “It’s about elitism, it’s about privilege, it’s about exclusion of certain people. Also it seems like a really apt play to do with young people because it’s about people who are just trying to find their footing in the world.”

Before she started rehearsing, Knight did extensive research into the history of Cambridge University, its connection to the British Empire and “its place in British society as almost a training ground for people who were going to be the elite in Britain and its colonies.

“It was really interesting for me to look at the play in that context – in terms of who the establishment wanted to allow through its doors and who they wanted to keep out and the extraordinary level of prejudice against the female students, which went so far as to violence against them.”

Knight has a longstanding collaboration with the NYT since she won their Bryan Forbes Directors Bursary in 2014.

“They’re an organisation I really love working with. I’m always astonished working with members to see the amazing friendships that are made from the collaborations that they undertake and also the artistic collaborations that come out of the NYT projects.”

Blue Stockings runs from August 15 to 19.

The NYT’s most recent commission, The Host, is the third production to be staged at the Yard Theatre for East End Season.

Directed by Zoe Lafferty, the play was written by Nessah Muthy in response to Brexit and the European refugee crisis.

The Host takes place on a South East London council estate, telling the story of Rabea, a Syrian refugee who has been taken in by an English family, as he battles the memories of his journey to England and forges new relationships.

A digital response to The Host will be available at the theatre – a 360 degree video featuring real accounts of refugees living in the UK. Continuing the play’s themes, the film explores responses and opinions based on real life experience and asks for their points of view.

It is created by NYT alumni Ben Carlin and Sean Hollands, founders of Epiphany VR, a company that combines virtual reality and the performing arts.