West End professionals return to Batley and Spen after success of Jo Cox-inspired Les Misérables

The cast and crew of Deeds Not Words gather for a photo.
The cast and crew of Deeds Not Words gather for a photo.

Leading West End professionals have returned to Batley & Spen for a Summer School and to create an original production designed to build on the phenomenal success of last year’s performances of Les Misérables and More In Common dedicated to Jo Cox.

The production of Les Mis – the first of its kind in Batley & Spen – saw a diverse cast of 100 local young people tread the boards and work behind the scenes, several of whom have since made huge leaps in their careers.

Last year's Les Miserables cast.

Last year's Les Miserables cast.

And now the Batley & Spen Youth Theatre Company, a charity formed in 2017 to celebrate the life and values of Jo Cox, is hosting a Summer School in Batley where up to 80 young people are being tutored by a team of top professionals from London’s West End theatres.

The two week Summer School will culminate in a show-stopping performance of the cohort’s work which centres on the theme, Deeds not Words: A Summer of Suffragettes and Soldiers.

The project is based around the centenary of a unique generation: the heroic soldiers who fought in the First World War and the courageous women who battled for women’s suffrage.

Tracy Brabin MP, who helped establish and is the Patron of the Batley & Spen Youth Theatre, said: “Last year’s expectation-exceeding project opened up so many doors for the young people involved in terms of opportunities and career development, and also gave a huge boost to their confidence and self-esteem.

“With such a talented team behind Deeds Not Words I know it will be a huge success and I’m thrilled to be working closely with the team to ensure the young people get as much out of it as possible.”

West End director/producer Abbey Wright, who is leading this year’s project, said: “After the phenomenal success of last year's production of Les Misérables I am honoured to be producing this year's production of Deeds Not Words.

“Bursting with talent and passion, they are an inspirational young team. And I can't wait to present their new show which explores freedom and asks the question: What would you fight for?”

Young people from last year’s Batley & Spen Youth Theatre programme have spoken of gaining “opportunities never dreamed of” as a result of the experience.

Some of the participants have gone on to secure roles in professional productions while several others have secured places at the prestigious National Youth Theatre. Alice Schofield, 17, from Batley, has since won a national competition to have her work turned into a full production with a professional cast at London’s National Theatre.

Nick Evans, who led last year’s production and counts Billy Elliot the Musical among his West End credits, said: “When we set up the Batley & Spen Youth Theatre we were aiming to complement the excellent work happening in local schools and groups by bringing West End professionals to the heart of Batley & Spen.

“We also wanted to provide a focus for togetherness, celebration and expression one year after the constituency lost Jo, who stood so palpably for those qualities.

“It’s a joy, one year on, to see such achievement from the talented young men and women of our Les Misérables company, succeeding in performance, technical theatre arts and writing. I have always felt that the area has something very special about it.”

Each day from July 28 – August 11 at the summer school a core team will be working with the young people and this will be complemented by masterclasses on performance and production delivered by visiting West End professionals.

A final run of public performances where the group will showcase their new-found skills and the work they have created will be held at the Jo Cox Theatre at Batley Grammar School on Friday 10th August at 2.30pm, and Saturday 11th August at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.

Tickets are now on sale at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/deeds-not-words-tickets-48597081178 and will also be available on the door. All funds raised will go back into the charity for future projects.

The Batley & Spen Youth Youth Theatre is reliant on fundraising so if anyone would like to donate to the project, please go to https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/deedsnotwords