YORK Theatre Royal will host the regional Shell Connections Festival for the first time in a new partnership with the National Theatre.

From Tuesday to May 8, the cream of the region's young actors will premiere newly commissioned plays by leading British playwrights in The Studio.

Five companies from York will be joined by youth theatres and school groups from Scarborough, Leeds, Bradford, Garforth, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Rotherham to perform works by Patrick Marber, Avril de Angelis, Richard Nelson, Philip Ridley and Bryony Lavery, among others.

In all, across the country 250 young companies have been rehearsing productions in the hope of being selected for the National Theatre national showcase. Twenty-five of those companies will present Bryony Lavery's Discontented Winter/House Remix, including York Youth Theatre, the Theatre Royal's resident youth group.

The festival launch at 6pm on Tuesday will be followed by York Youth Theatre's performance at 7.15pm, when Sarah Brigham's cast will act on Lavery's encouragement to "go mad with invention and sane with caution over set/lighting/staging" in a play set five minutes in the future.

"I've called it Discontented Winter because Shakespeare's Richard III was my main source material, and House Remix because I want to offer the young companies the chance to do it their own way," she says. "They understand rap music much better than an old woman like me does, and so House Remix is to say to them 'You find your style for doing it'."

Bryony's production notes provocatively announced that she had deliberately made the play difficult to stage. "I thought that would attract the most adept groups with the most imaginative leaders in those groups, who like problem solving and are not daunted by how to stage something," she says.

At her invitation, Discontented Winter is a play that companies can "pause/hold/fast-forward - it's your finger on the remote".

Whatever their decision, this festival will definitely fast-forward theatre into its future.

NT Shell Connections Festival dates and plays

Tuesday April 27

7.15pm, York Youth Theatre Discontented Winter/House Remix; 8.30pm, Hemsworth College, The Musicians.

Discontented Winter: House Remix by Bryony Lavery

In a restless world, the balance of power is soon to change. Ronan, a latter-day Richard III, plots the downfall of the government and kidnaps two young princes. A new generation of leaders must rise up to take control of the city.

The Musicians by Patrick Marber

In two hours' time, a school orchestra will give the most important concert of the young musicians' lives, playing at the European Festival of Youth, Moscow. One problem: they have no instruments. All hope seems lost.

Wednesday, April 28

7.15pm, Old Hall Rotherham, The Willow Pattern; 8.30pm York Youth Theatre Discontented Winter/House


The Willow Pattern by Judith Johnson

Rich widower Mandarin is overly protective of his cherished daughter, the strong willed and feisty Knoon-She. When she falls in love with her father's secretary, Chang, she is determined to be with him and risk everything.

Thursday, April 29

7.15pm, Stage 84 Bradford, The Musicians; 8.30pm, Boston Spa School, The Willow Pattern.

Friday, April 30

7.15pm, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Scenes From Abroad/Karamazoo; 8.30pm, Riding Lights, York, Headstrong.

Scenes From Abroad by Richard Nelson

Fortified by music, liquor, cigarettes and a little dope, some American students stays up all night confessing their fears, confronting their wounds and dismissing and dissecting their parents.

Karamazoo by Philip Ridley

From the writer of Moonfleece, comes a 15-minute monologue.

Headstrong by April de Angelis

On a voyage to India, Captain Lowe hopes the marriage of his daughter, Lila Mae, to Mr Logan will cement a business dynasty. Lila Mae, however, falls in love with another and forces servant Rose Phillips to help her dupe her father.

Saturday, May 1

7.15pm, St Mary's Youth Theatre, Garforth, The Musicians; 8.30pm Stagerite Youth Theatre, York, Scenes From Abroad/Karamazoo.

Tuesday, May 4

7.15pm, Thomas Danby College, Leeds, The Willow Pattern; 8.30pm, Stagerite,York, Scenes From Abroad/Karamazoo

Wednesday, May 5

7.15pm, Cap A Pie Creative, Newcastle, Moonfleece; 8.30pm, York Youth Theatre, Discontented Winter/HouseRemix.

Moonfleece by Philip Ridley

Curtis has arranged a secret meeting in a flat of a derelict tower block, where he lived in childhood. With his friends, Curtis aims to find out why his brother's ghost is haunting him. Events do not go as planned.

Thursday, May 6

7.15pm Fulford School, York, Headstrong; 8.30pm, York College, Dead End.

Dead End by Letizia Russo, translated by Luca Scarlini and Aleks Sierz

A community of young people is ruled by the power of Sirius, a new God. However, one day routine and order are shattered by the arrival of Kris and Kent. Who will succeed in this struggle? Who will be God?

Friday, May 7

7.15pm, Nunthorpe School, Middlesbrough, The Willow Pattern; 8.30pm, Fulford School, Headstrong.

Saturday, May 8

7.15pm, Pilot Youth Theatre, Asleep Under the Dark Earth; 8.30pm, Catterall Hall, The Willow Pattern.

Asleep Under The Dark Earth by Sian Evans

In 1830, two very different girls unleash a magical game from their childhood, only to find themselves in an unforeseen and dangerous world in this story of friendship and rivalry.

NT Shell Connections, The Studio, York Theatre Royal, April 27 to May 8. Tickets: adults £5; concessions, under-25s and students £3.50; festival voucher for all shows £10. Box office: 01904 623568.

Updated: 08:55 Friday, April 23, 2004