I’ve been interested in the work of Y Touring, the theatre arm of Central YMCA, almost since it started 22 years ago. The company’s very unusual USP is that it takes contentious scientific issues — such as families dealing with genetic disease, or animal experimentation — and commissions experienced playwrights to create gripping drama based around them. The resulting plays, which include Pig in the Middle by Judy Upton (1997) and Every Breath by Judith Johnson (2006), are then toured to schools where they become catalysts for informed debate.
Of course Y Touring has developed and expanded its activities over the years, which is why I found myself earlier this week sitting in a rather splendid lecture hall at The Wellcome Trust (a long term Y Touring sponsor) in Euston Road to see the company’s first film.
Mind the Gap by Abi Bown, directed by Nigel Townsend, Y Touring’s Director, first toured in 2004. The piece is set on an underground station platform where four people struggle to understand each other. The underlying themes are memories and their role in making us who we are, retribution and coming to terms with loss - underpinned by neuroscience and the effects of Alzheimer’s.
The play was revived earlier this year for National Science and Engineering Week during which it played in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. It was also screened live in Picture House Cinemas in York, Liverpool, Southampton, Cambridge, Oxford and Stratford East in London which means that it reached a much wider audience than most of Y Touring’s work does.
The end result, ‘canned’ by See Thru Watch production company became the film I saw on Monday at a screening for invited guests - there are copyright reasons why it cannot be shown publicly. I was very moved by Anni Domingo’s acting as an elderly Nigerian woman with early Alzheimer’s and by Karl Queensborough as the traumatised Vijay whose girl friend died six months ago under a tube train. Silas, thoughtfully played by Patrick Myles, runs a station kiosk but is studying neuroscience and Dino (Nathan Bryon) is an intriguing delinquent with very serious problems whose brain operates in its own unique way. Abi Brown creates compelling drama from the interaction between her four characters. And, as after every Y Touring play I have ever seen, you feel battered at the end by the sheer scale of human complexity.
Normally I have serious reservations about live theatre filmed. It often becomes very two dimensional and clinical. But Mind the Gap worked well, largely, I think because the theatre playing space was quite small so the action is very contained. The camera work is good too with lots of well placed close up shots.
Filming the productions clearly has potential for getting Y Touring’s message to many more young people and Nigel Townsend tells me he is ‘very excited’ about this as a way of moving forward. ‘We’re looking for ways in which we might show the Mind the Gap film to more people’ he says. ‘And we shall probably bear the film element in mind in future whenever we contract people to work with us on a new production.’