Preview: Crowd

As a 200-strong young theatre company gears up for its main stage debut in Liverpool, the director explains how he keeps creative energy in check while encouraging freedom and individuality

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“Crowd is a response to where the world’s at right now,” says Matt Rutter. “It’s about how we got where we are, the divisions that are taking place in society, the intrusion of surveillance and the reaction of young people toward that. It’s an eye-opening piece of work.”

Rutter is director at the Young Everyman Playhouse and charged with corralling the youthful energy of its 200-strong cast, crew and technical staff into a coherent whole. Crowd is the YEP’s latest effort and has been shaped by the group’s 14 to 25 year olds, with Rutter and co-director Chris Tomlinson, “bolting it all together.”

“They literally started with one word, autocracy, which we then researched, discussed and debated. That led to improvisation and the development of scenes,” Rutter says, keen to point out the democratic nature of the group. The resulting show charts the rise of a fictional, charismatic leader while examining just why the masses slavishly follow such individuals.

Rutter – 40 years old and with a background in teaching alongside acting and directing – has been at the helm of the company since its inception eight years ago. But while he is experienced in channelling the dynamism of creative youngsters, attempting to hold together the three productions the YEP tackles each year still provides a challenge.

“Oh, it’s madness most of the time,” he laughs. “All these young people with ideas flying around their brains. Often, and right up to a week before we open, it feels as if we’ve just got a series of bits and pieces but suddenly we all work on stitching it together and everyone goes: ‘Wow, we really do have a show!’ It’s a great atmosphere to work in but it does mean you have to hold your nerve right up to the opening night.”

The intricacies of state-sponsored violence and control, what constitutes free speech and the encroachment of surveillance and intrusive modern technologies are also examined in Crowd. Parallels with Orwell’s 1984 can be drawn.

“I think we’re so caught up in all these amazing advances that we’re not noticing the consequential changes occurring around us,” explains cast member Kaila Sharples, a third year drama student at Liverpool John Moores University who’s been with the YEP since 2011.

“The encroachment of modern technology is changing fundamental parts of society – how we interact, learn, behave – without us really noticing. I think that is potentially a dangerous thing and there are people who take advantage of our growing obliviousness to meet their own ends.”

Rutter says Crowd also touches on the Orwellian nature of devices such as Alexa. “People are actually paying to have a huge corporation listening in their front room: astonishing!”

The young company is making its main stage debut in the Liverpool Playhouse with Crowd – sandwiched between well-known productions The Girl on the Train and The Cat in the Hat.

“The YEP wasn’t conceived to remake 50-year-old musicals. We want these young people to talk about the world, their world, and let them speak with a political voice.

“We need to hear them being artists and explaining their thoughts, even if they’re not always what we want to hear. That passion should be obvious for audiences watching Crowd.

Crowd is at Liverpool Playhouse, 27 Feb-2 March

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