Whirlwind Theatre whips up storm to celebrate its 10th birthday

Some of the Whirlwind Theatre members during a performance.
Some of the Whirlwind Theatre members during a performance.

Whirlwind Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary in Lancaster.

During that time, it has produced and performed a cavalcade of visual theatre involving both children and professionals.

This unique company is dedicated to providing story-based theatre for children.

Young people work alongside professional theatre practitioners of the highest quality and rehearse towards productions learning all types of theatre techniques. They are also encouraged to suggest their own design and script ideas in ‘Theatre Making’ Saturday sessions. Although the company is small at the moment, it plans to grow to be a nationally recognised children’s theatre company based in the north west of England.

Ten years ago Whirlwind Theatre performed its first Lancaster-based production in a blue and red striped circus tent erected in Ryelands Park, with a company of local and national professional actors, musicians, director and a host of enthusiastic children and community members.

The wind blew, the rain came down and the coconut matting floated above a sea of mud, but the show, Toad of Toad Hall, went on regardless, Ian Blower playing Toad and Peter Rylands as Badger.

After that there were productions each year, at first at Kings House, then at The Storey, then The Gregson Centre, and most recently at The Dukes DT3. Productions have included The Light House Keepers Lunch – where the children’s playwright and Whirlwind patron David Wood OBE visited the young cast – followed by The Selfish Giant, Around the Pond in 80 Days – with local celebrity Ife Akintunde impressing the audience with his beautiful vocal jazz tones. He returned to play Brilliant in Brilliant the Dinosaur and Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Most recent Whirlwind productions include The Tempest and the pantomime Mother Goose.

Whirlwind has also produced projects in Lancashire schools, been involved in youth festivals and provided workshops for community groups and for the disadvantaged. It has invited specialists to deliver workshops, teaching and expertise, such as Sam Kahn, a renowned stage fighting director for theatre and film; Steve Allen Jones of Spear of Destiny and The Alarm, composer for Clwyd Theatre and musical director for the National Youth Theatre of Wales; Alistair Ganley, who is artistic director of Cygnet Training Theatre, and actor Kyle Oram.

Over the last ten years young people have gone on to appear on TV, gained places at drama school, and their time at Whirlwind has built up their confidence and influenced their life decisions.

The company has also helped many young professional actors at the start of their careers, giving them their first professional job, and it has encouraged local students to gain work experience.

Whirlwind has recently moved into a brand new base at Halton Mills, to house its large collection of costumes, props and scenery and now has the space to design and create better productions. It can also offer space and its design and construction skills to other companies. Last year, Whirlwind’s artistic director, Myette Godwyn, an experienced actress, director, designer and writer, gained her MA in Inclusive Education with Middlesex University and the famous Chickenshed Theatre Company in London with ongoing research into improving reading skills and script interpretation for those who struggle with them.

Despite the recession the company has successfully battled on without mainstream arts funding and with only a small amount of project grants.

Whirlwind would love to hear from anyone who would like to support them and be a part of this exciting and different theatre company. Whirlwind wants to be recognised as part of the arts establishment of Lancaster and be funded to provide exciting productions – making theatre participation accessible to all children regardless of background or ability, and also to encourage new writing, rooted in good stories.

The exciting tenth anniversary season starts with two fun Theatre Making groups, on a Saturday morning for the five to seven-year-olds and the eights and overs, plus a role play, craft and storytelling group for the tiniest, two to four years, on a Thursday morning, starting at the end of February. All these groups are based at The Gregson Centre.

Later on in the year there will also be a two and half week intense ‘experience the profession’ Whirlwind Youth Company production for the 10-year-olds and above.

For those interested in attending any of the workshops, or would like to sponsor or be involved in the company, please contact Whirlwind Theatre by email at enquiries@whirlwindtheatre.org.uk or by telephone on 01524 811794 or see the website at www.whirlwindtheatre.org.uk.