Brighton’s young actors bring Preston Manor to life

DSCF0767I couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy when I visited Preston Manor last week to talk to some lucky young actors from Brighton and Hove.

They were taking part in a ‘site specific’ performance – in other words, a performance which is designed around the space it is being performed in.  Based around letters written during the First World War, the members of the Brighton Youth Theatre had created a series of dramatic vignettes or mini-plays to perform to an audience, who moved around Preston Manor, rather than sit in the same place.

It’s such a great idea and something I would have absolutely loved when I was their age, about 17 or 18.

Keep the Home Fires burning actorThe final performance, mainly to friends and family was last week and they all looked amazing, dressed in authentic clothes from the period.

Engaging young people with Brighton’s museums

The project was collaboration with the RP&M Youth Engagement officer Hazel Welch and the theatre group which attracts young people from across the city.Audience and actors at Keep the Home Fires Burning

Called ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’  it was devised by BYT as part of RP&M’s  WW1 Centenary events.  The show was the result of research into the people and events in Brighton during WW1.  The performance used a variety of research materials such as newspaper articles and adverts, poetry, personal testimonies, letters, songs and creative writing by members of Brighton Youth Theatre.

Actor in Keep the Home Fires BurningThey had all worked really hard in the months leading up to the show and had given up some of their half term to rehearse in the space.

Nagma, 17 from Brighton says she loved the work as she wants to become an actress in the future. ‘It’s been a great experience,’ she said. ‘I played a maid and the first woman police officer in the city. She had to be very tough to take on what was a man’s job. To be in Preston Manor really helps to bring the characters alive. ‘

Peter, 18 from Whitehawk played a conscientious objector and also led the audience around Preston Manor to introduce the scenes.

He said; ‘I’ve learnt such a lot from facts about how 8 million horses died in the First World War to how to do a range of accents. I’ve made lots of friends too which is great and gained a lot of confidence around singing.’Actors singing in Keep the Home Fires Burning

The show is just one of the many projects which take place at the Royal Pavilion and Museums to engage with local people from all over the city with a range of different interests and needs.

Flora, 17 from Brighton was full of enthusiasm for the event. ‘I’ve enjoyed learning about WW1 and to use the objects around us, gives the show that extra bit of authenticity.  I’ve developed improvising skills as you need to keep the character going and made some new friends. It’s been a really good experience overall and it’s definitely helped my confidence.

I imagine the group of young people involved in this project will remember it with affection and. hopefully, pride for the rest of their lives. Working in such a fantastic setting in Preston Manor, with a new group of people, learning how to act, plan a show, discover some historical facts along the way; I don’t think life gets much better than that.

And hopefully the experience will also give them a lifelong love of Preston Manor and a deep understanding of some of the lives of the people who once lived there.

Downstairs staff in Keep the Home Fires Burning

  • Brighton Youth Theatre is run by the Council’s Youth Arts Project, and is a free service for young people aged 14-18.


Caroline Sutton, Blogger in Residence


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