True Colours shine as young people tell their stories in cabaret at New Theatre Royal with Downtown Pompey

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New Theatre Royal’s associate artist The Fabulous Josh and their company Downtown Pompey has teamed up with young local artists to deliver the show on July 28-29.

Inspired by the theme of colour, the performance is a collaboration exploring identity, storytelling and autobiographical performance through different disciplines to redefine typical cabaret.

Josh says: ‘The concept behind True Colours is to create a platform for young people to explore the theme of identity and express their unique stories through creative arts in a safe and accessible environment.

A Q&A session in preparation for True Colours, which is at New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth on July 28-29, 2022. On the left is The Fabulous Josh, right is Suzi Ruffell.

‘We hope this multi-coloured cabaret is a chance to highlight and celebrate the young creative voices in Portsmouth.’

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The show follows on from the work Downtown Pompey did with mothers to create the show Wearing Mum’s Makeup, which hit the stage last October.

‘We created a blueprint with Wearing Mum's Makeup,’ explains Josh, ‘we knew how to consult with people, and we knew how to work with them to create a piece of work. The outcomes from that show were so positive that we wanted to see if we could emulate that success with young people.

‘It's quite exciting – it's going to be a bit of a forum for those young people to tell other young people stories. And I think that's actually quite beautiful.

‘We've been able to reach out a bit further than we did with Wearing Mum’s Makeup because of the nature of the networks we'd already established.

‘It was about them making their own work and understanding how to use their own voices, or reaching some equilibrium where there was conflict, whether it was within themselves and their identity or generally, just trying to communicate something they wanted to talk about. Basically we're giving kids the chance to tell their own stories.’

NTR’s newest patron Suzi Ruffell has also been supporting the project. In April, she made a guest appearance at the theatre to take part in an inspiring Q&A session on identity with a small group of students from local schools.

The teenagers got to bring their own questions and hear first-hand from Suzi about her personal experience of exploring identity, growing up in Portsmouth and life as a comedian.

‘As Portsmouth we're working towards being a really lovely inclusive city,’ says Josh, ‘and having someone like Suzi who represents that, and for the young people to see that and have a role-model like that is really beautiful.

‘To have a conversation with Suzi about dinlos and squinnies and things like that makes it relatable to young people – you can have these really intense conversations about identity but shrouded in this sense of your cousin's going to beat you up in the fountain – that sort of Pompey stuff!’

The True Colours performance has evolved from a series of interactive workshops led by Josh and a team of artists, exploring the theme of identity through dance, music and theatre performance.

The sessions included topics such as storytelling, exploring masculinity, positivity and the history of drag and provided 13–18-year-olds the chance to learn new skills, develop their artistic craft and explore creative expression.

‘For the last six months we've had different artists from around the country who work in queer theatre to come and deliver workshops to young people who'd signed up to them at the NTR.

‘We've also been doing workshops in schools around identity and performance, so a couple of the young people have come in from that as well.

‘We've also been working with the Young Creatives, who do all kinds of things around Portsmouth, to develop some autobiographical pieces.’

Josh adds: ‘The reason I love cabaret is because it's a form which is really malleable and you can do anything with it, so it's been lovely working with these people on this sort of form.’

As an award-winning community activist, The Fabulous Josh and Downtown Pompey aim to bridge the gap between different communities in Portsmouth and spark meaningful conversations around identity and belonging.

NTR’s head of marketing Andy Sheppard adds: ‘We are delighted to be working with The Fabulous Josh and Downtown Pompey on True Colours to champion the diverse mix of creative voices within our city.

‘We can’t wait to see how this vibrant collaboration of teen artists unfolds on stage and creates a space for exciting new talent to emerge.’

True Colours is at New Theatre Royal on July 28 and 29, from 6pm. Tickets at newtheatreroyal.com.