Zigger Zagger returns to the stage, 50 years after it was first commissioned by NYT. Director Juliet Knight discusses what it's been like to work with on energetic young cast to bring this iconic play back to the stage as part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations.
The backdrop for this production is Britain in the mid-seventies: power cuts, double-digit inflation, striking coal miners, an oil crisis and an imposed threeday working week.
Labour have returned to government and Margaret Thatcher has become the first female leader of a British political party. The 1975 referendum sees Britain decide to stay in the European Community and this is met with protests from the National Front party. In 1975 football hooliganism on the opening day of the English League results in hundreds of fans being arrested at games nationwide. Written 50 years ago in 1967, National Youth Theatre’s latest adaptation of Peter Terson’s Zigger Zagger brings together a vintage voice of discontent and a new company of young people demanding to be heard.
What a gift it has been to return to NYT and work on this play with such an intelligent and talented company. Exploring the world of Harry Philton with his surrounding tower blocks and struggles has evoked many discussions in the rehearsal space. The cast have talked about the boredom they discovered in the lives of their characters and how passing time in a world pre-mobile phones feels much more isolated. We discussed how football, with its passion and sense of tribe, fills this hole for many of the characters.
Discussing the themes of Zigger Zagger in 2017 Britain brought the tragedy of the lives lost in Grenfell Tower into our discussions. I listened to this fierce, vocal community of young people describe themselves as “keyboard warriors lost in space”, political and desperate to “make a positive impact and leave a footprint” but also “apathetic to go out and do anything”. One member of the cast said he wanted answers to the question of how Great Britain can allow “dust in the food cupboards of its children”. With child poverty set to rise by one million in the next five years, it seems Zigger Zagger’s voice is still pertinent and still asking important questions. What are the prospects for young adults leaving the education system today and where is the support for this millennial generation? Fifty years ago Zigger Zagger was a voice of disillusionment. It leaves me wondering what the next 50 years will bring and what our role is in shaping young people’s future.
It has been humbling to see this diverse company, ranging from 15 to 26, inhabit a rehearsal space. On day three of the process I asked the company to name the qualities they wanted to have in the rehearsal room to make a safe space for vulnerability and inventiveness to happen. One voice after another offered suggestions like “accept we might fail”, “find courage”, “be eager to work with everyone”, “ be sensitive towards each other”, “give support” and “know we all matter, are needed and are important”. Hearing these answers was very moving and resulted in 50 young people working together with compassion and kindness.
Jumping into devising tasks with gusto, playing games with extraordinary energy and being honest is at the heart of our ensemble company. The mantra of the French circus troupe Compagnie XY has been present with me through this process: “Alone we may go faster but together we go further.” Even if there is a conflict of opinion, this company has taught me that every voice matters.
Words: Juliet Knight | Photo: Nobby Clark