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Seeing a Roy Williams play at Italia Conti

Although I see and review a fair number of drama school showcases, it isn’t often I can get to a complete student show. And that’s not because I’m not invited — invitations arrive thick and fast, for which I am grateful to the senders — but simply because there are an awful lot of calls on my time and only so many hours in the day.

It was therefore a real pleasure, and something of a novelty, to find myself in Italia Conti’s Avondale Theatre last week for Sing Yer Heart out for the Lads. Although I have been to Italia Conti’s Goswell Road HQ and its full time 11-16 school more than once, this was my first visit to the Landor Road, Clapham site where most of the higher education students are based — so that added to the interest.

For a start — ever a sucker for attractive buildings from all centuries — I was very taken with the elegant high ceilings of this Victorian school. Occupied by Italia Conti since the 1960s, in its time it has been a concert hall, religious meeting place and temporary mortuary during the Blitz, among other incarnations.

Roy Williams’s play, which I missed when it played at National Theatre in 2002, is a powerful piece about racism, family loyalty, football and other conflicts set in a pub during the 2000 England v Germany game at the old Wembley Stadium.

It was presented by Italia Conti’s final year BA (Hons) students, their faces and voices familiar because I saw them recently in a showcase. How much more satisfying, though, to watch these young actors in sustained and developed roles.

The ensemble work was very strong, partly the result of this group’s having worked together for nearly three years and partly a credit to Kate Williams’ direction and teaching. Maybe it’s invidious to single out individuals, because there were no weak links and every single cast member did well. Nevertheless I especially liked Thea Rooney’s multi-faceted interpretation of Gina, the assertive licensee and troubled single mother. Daniel Francis-Swaby really made something of Duane, although it’s a relatively small part, and Joey Ellis, who played Becks, has real stage charisma.

All in all it was a good evening and I was touched to be made so very welcome.

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