Andy Smethurst, 13 and from Swinton, has been playing a dead body all day in rehearsals for his role as Darren, a gay lad who's dead and buried in the opening scenes of the ironically titled play Tomorrow I'll Be Happy.
"It's been great fun doing the exercises and learning how to fall" he says "I've done other shows before but nothing as big and intense as this. We're not seeing it as a competition, just something we can do and hopefully get to the National Theatre in London."
The play, a new work by top writer Jonathan Harvey, who's done the current hit Friday Night Out on ITV, and has scripted Coronation Street episodes amongst other shows, is being adapted as part of a nationwide `Connections' project by the National Theatre.
The MORPHIC Young Peopleʼs Theatre Company (until recently CRIS*), is made up of nine young local people, age 13-19, who have had no formal drama training but will be up against the likes of The Lowry and Royal Exchange's youth theatre groups. They're not seeing it as a competition – but the best groups go on to perform at the National Theatre. And these are up for it…
Tom Conway, 14 and from Kersal, signed up for the Salford group after seeing it advertised at his youth club…
"Being involved with the National Theatre is cool because you know you're part of something that's big" he says "I've been in one show before, Docks Law, and being on stage is a bit nerve wracking at first but then you start to enjoy it."
Tom plays Troy in the play, the little brother of the schemer who helps along the death of the main character, Darren. Indeed, in Tomorrow I'll Be Happy, everyone seems to have a hand in the ultimate knifing of Darren, their gay mate, who has already met his doom in the opening scene. It's not so much a `whodunnit' as a `why did they do it?'.
"It starts when a guy called Marcus comes to the town and realises an ex lover of his has been killed in a homophobic knife crime" explains Tom Carney, 18 and from Little Hulton who plays Siddie the killer "The play is set chronologically backwards so it starts at the end. As it moves backwards, all the different friends of the guy who gets killed share their stories of deceit, psychological problems and stuff like that."
Matt McDade, 18, plays Marcus, the stranger who comes back to the crumbling seaside town of Rhyl and blows the plot apart. He's worked with CRIS on many productions but this might well be his most challenging…
"I have to have a breakdown in the first scene, there's lots of emotion in it" he says "There's some sly comedy bits in it but overall it's a dark play."
…Not the kind of thing that box ticking `let's put on a community play' groups would go near with a bargepole. But the young people involved chose to do the difficult play, and embrace the knife crime/homophobic issues within in.
"They're up against youth groups who have been doing it for years and they've done me proud" says Morphic's Steph Pearce during a break in rehearsals at Gears+, near Whit Lane, "They've really gone through it, done the drama school exercises I've set them and everything."
And the cast have drawn on their real life experiences to emboss their characters…
"You just try and draw on emotions that you've felt and can link to it, it helps you" says 16 year old Paige Walmsley who plays Dior, girlfriend of the bloke who has a gay affair with Darren "I envy their relationship that they are carrying on behind my back. And it's been good to play."
Difficult themes, emotionally draining acting…this Salford-based group seem to be taking it in their stride, going for a stab at the big time…
Tomorrow Iʼll Be Happy by Jonathan Harvey
Performed by Morphic Young People's Theatre
(as part of National Theatre Connections)
Tuesday 5th March 8pm £4
The Lowry Studio
Tickets available from The Lowry box office call 0843 208 6010
Photos by Beckie Hough