Shoreditch theatre company marks Hurricane Katrina’s fifth anniversary

EAST LONDON holds many a historical gem from Shakespeare’s lost theatre in New Inn Broadway to the Hackney Empire. But one such treasure less frequently in the spotlight is Theatre Centre, the UK’s oldest drama company working exclusively for young people.

This autumn is a great time to find out a bit more as the 57-year-old organisation, based in Shoreditch Town Hall in Old Street, presents a brand new play marking the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

‘The Day the Waters Came’ written by Lisa Evans takes youngsters aged 13 and over as well as older theatre-goers back to August 29 2005 when extreme weather wreaked havoc in New Orleans and the best and worst of world politics played out under George W. Bush.

“I wanted to have a ‘big moment in history’ play and I have been fascinated by Katrina since it happened,” said Theatre Centre’s artistic director Natalie Wilson.

“What the play does is it shows the black heroes and ordinary people involved in the tragedy.

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“It’s quite a personal piece because it comes from a particular view point.”

The horror is revisited through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl, one year on. Four young actors - Amber Cameron, Darlene Charles, Shane Frater and Uriah Manning – play 15 characters she meets caught up in Katrina.

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But many of Theatre Centre’s audience members were just eight years old when the hurricane hit leaving many American citizens refugees in the own country. So bringing the events back to life takes more than just retelling the story.

“With teenagers, we have to keep our work very punchy,” said Natalie.

“We’re working for the YouTube generation. We keep the mental engagement moving and don’t stay anywhere very long - it’s like a documentary, with bursts of noise.”

But it’s not just the producers and actors in the play faced with the challenges of staging Katrina. The play invites its audience to confront the legacy it left behind.

“There are lots of big questions which are really important for young people to be asking,” said Natalie.

“How near is far away? What happens when help doesn’t come? It’s a complicated world – start asking otherwise you won’t get asked.”

‘The Day the Waters Came’ previewed at Redbridge Drama Centre last week and opens at Unicorn Theatre in Tooley Street, Tower Bridge on October 5. It then tours the UK including Hackney and Tower Hamlets schools as well as theatres in Crawley, Birmingham and Plymouth.

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