There is a place for youth theatre that goes beyond simple item of interest for community news, and that speaks to its impact and importance both as an educational tool and as a way for young people – and their audiences – to reflect creatively on the world in which we live and express themselves in inventive ways. Having in the past year won multiple “best youth production” awards, the Cardiff Gang Show, that is, the production set up by the Scouts and Guides of Cardiff and the Vale on a yearly basis, is an excellent example of is. This year, for four nights only, it brings to the New Theatre The 4G Race, a somewhat frantic trip around the world that dips into a variety of well-known tropes, always with a sense of humour, and develops into a plot that would not be entirely out-of-place in a Doctor Who episode.
What is really remarkable about this is how high the production values are, and how ambitious the project, considering that this is both youth theatre and an amateur effort. The complexity of the set transitions, the choreographies, the ability to coordinate such a variety of performers and characters, are all proof of the ingenuity of the people behind the play and of their devotion to it. The result is surprising – a performance that is genuinely enjoyable in its own right, not only as a form of due praise to young people doing their best. The performance lasts in excess of two hours, has a plot that – while not always tight or linear – contains moments of real narrative tension, almost never loses pace or rhythm, and all in all manages a series of goals that would not necessarily be expected of a youth production. It showcases some real talent, taking a variety of shapes: from moments of surprisingly flawless comedic timing, to some excellent singing. It is not only the effort put into this work that makes it interesting, but the promise that it displays.
For these reasons, I think, The 4G Race is a perfect example of why youth theatre, while it certainly cannot be considered with the demanding critics’ eye that is applied, and fairly so, to professional productions, should nonetheless be taken very seriously, especially in cases like this, where it is clear that the production itself was taken seriously indeed by all those that took part in it, and the result is frankly impressive. It is not simply a lighthearted occasion for family fun. Somewhere in the crowd of young performers that took to the stage for the final curtain call there might be one of the great talents of tomorrow, and the path to recognising and cultivating that talent begins precisely with youth theatre. Some of the most impressive young performers in the 2018 Gang Show were indeed among the youngest on stage. In times in which hope for the future cannot always be taken for granted, youth productions with a commitment such as this are particularly welcome.
The 4G Race is evidently a labour of love, but it is not simply that. It’s well constructed and worthy of praise in its own right, and an honestly, thoroughly enjoyable experience for a family night out. All in the Cardiff and Vale Scout and Guide groups that took part in bringing it to the stage deserve great praise for what they have achieved.