National Theatre acclaim for Derry teens and More Pies Productions

'Journey to X' impressed peers and critics alike on stage at the world famous National Theatre in London. (3107JC2) Photo courtesy of Simon Annand
'Journey to X' impressed peers and critics alike on stage at the world famous National Theatre in London. (3107JC2) Photo courtesy of Simon Annand

Talented young actors who performed at the prestigious National Theatre on London’s Southbank last month made such an impression that the Derry-based More Pies Productions has just been awarded a bursary to apply again this year.

Steve Wakeley, a Drama teacher at Oakgrove Integrated College, set up More Pies Productions with his son, aspiring filmmaker Brogan Wakeley. Each year the National Theatre asks ten exciting writers to create new plays which are performed by young theatre companies all over the country. This year 180 groups took part. Enlisting ten exceptionally talented Derry teens, More Pies Productions took part in the NT Connections Project and made it all the way to Southbank.

“We did a play by Irish writer Nancy Harris called ‘Journey to X’, with a cast all aged between 16-19 years-old,” Mr Wakeley told the ‘Journal’. “The National Theatre commission ten different plays each year, and this year we were chosen as one of them. You get a licence to perform the play and so we got the licence to perform the play at The Playhouse in February for three nights. Then you transfer to a regional theatre which, in our case, was the Grand Opera House in Belfast.”

The play revolved around a group of young people on a mission to get to London for the open audition of the X-Factor. But their reasons for going to London were two-fold. Secretly, they also had to try and raise £500 for the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. Something their country doesn’t approve of, something their parents wouldn’t condone. It’s a decision only one of them can make, whether she wants to or not.

Such was their performance, the Derry group were then selected by the National Theatre as one of the final ten to perform at the Cottesloe Theatre within the National Theatre on London’s Southbank.

“We took the company over in June and sold out all 300 seats - performing to good reviews too,” Mr Wakeley says. “As part of the whole process, we met with the play’s writer Nancy Harris and she came to Derry. National Theatre directors also came over from London and gave us good advice and helped us transfer the play from Derry to the London stage, remaking our set in London and providing us with costumes.”

The performance was hailed a massive success by all, and its cast and director were understandably thrilled.

“The day itself was an amazing experience,” Mr Wakeley recalls. “They paid for us to stay overnight, and we went to see other groups perform their plays and the experience was fantastic for myself and my son, but particularly for the young cast of ten actors from the city. It really was one of those life-changing experiences, being given the chance to perform on the National Theatre stage!”

“They were treated like professional actors for the day, so they had runners, professional stage management teams, a lighting team, all working on their production. I was very proud of them. And to see our own creation on stage at the National Theatre was an amazing feeling for all of us.”

As the director of More Pies Productions, Mr Wakeley was understandably delighted to hear even more good news recently.

“We’ve just been awarded the bursary from the National Theatre, which means the registration fee has been waived for us for the next Connections Festival so we can take part again this year,” he explains. “Maybe we won’t get to London this time, but we’ll go through the same process of picking a certain writer and of travelling to London to meet the writer. We’ll recruit locally again to try and get a different group of actors, then we’ll perform it locally before taking it to the Lyric Theatre next year sometime. After that, the National Theatre will have a look at it and then select those who go through to London.

“I’m really, really pleased about the bursary news - it will be a great help to us,” he added.