By Ben Cornwell

The White Rock Theatre’s Summer Youth Project is back for its eighteenth production. This year the local theatre group will be performing a junior production of the award-winning West End musical Matilda. 

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical JR is adapted from the full length musical and follows the story of an extraordinary girl armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind who decides to take charge of her own destiny.

Youth Theatre production of Grease
CREDIT: Peter Mould

White Rock Theatre’s Summer Youth Project began in 2003 with a performance of Wind in the Willows and has run every year since except for last year when the production of Bugsy Malone had to be cancelled due to the national restrictions in place. The Summer Project and other workshops arranged by the venue are a part of the HQ Theatres Trust and are therefore self-funded and not for profit. The project has had over 2,000 people involved since its inception and has covered several famous shows and musicals including Oliver, Grease and their most recent production back in 2019 of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Having been working online for more than a year, it wasn’t feasible to prepare a full-scale show on the main stage similar to other years. However, when they were invited to attend an online festival by MTI (Musical Theatre International), their chances of running any type of production this year began to grow. They were informed that the company had recently released the license for a junior production of Matilda, an adaptation of the full-length show but cut down to roughly an hour running time. With the full license being unlikely to be released any time soon due to Matilda still being performed in the West End, Creative Learning Manager, Jo Stead-Burgess said that it was “too good an opportunity to turn down”. With the license obtained, plans and auditions for a scaled-down production of Matilda JR started to be made.

Jo Stead-Burgess has been the venue’s Creative Learning Manager for almost five years. However, she first became involved in the Summer Project eleven years ago when her children were participants in the project. Back then, she helped out as a volunteer chaperone and worked with props and costumes for the shows. 

The ethos of the Summer Youth Project is to give local children the opportunity to receive as close to a professional training experience in the performing arts for the least possible cost. 

“The project is not just about the performances at the end, it’s about the whole experience for the kids,” Jo said. “Many of our previous participants have either gone onto pro acting jobs or started working in quite prominent roles within the creative industries. It can be a real springboard for people.”

Matilda is at the White Rock Theatre from Thursday 26th August until Sunday 29th August.

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