By Paige Michel-Strachan
In our next SCEP SPOTLIGHT post, we’re profiling SCEP member Liam Gifford and his work with The Nuffield Collective. Our SCEP SPOTLIGHT series sheds light on the diverse membership of the Southampton Cultural Education Partnership (SCEP) and the brilliant work they do.
Liam Gifford is a theatre-maker, qualified teacher and engagement professional who specialises in leading community projects and directing plays with and for theatre-makers of all ages and backgrounds at all levels. He studied at Dartington College of Arts where he gained an honours degree in Theatre, and then later achieved a PGCE qualification in Drama at Aberystwyth University. Now, Liam plays an important role in leading and mentoring The Nuffield Collective.
The Nuffield Collective are a new young people’s theatre group formed out of the closure of Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST), in 2020. The collective is mainly formed of people that were previously members of the NST Young Company. The young people wanted to keep going with their theatre making and with the support and guidance of Liam, The Nuffield Collective was born.
Members of the Collective are young aspiring creatives aiming to break into the theatre industry. Aged 18 to 25 years, they are from Southampton and the surrounding areas, including Portsmouth, Winchester and The New Forest. The group started off with 12 members, increasing to around 20 in total. Some want to pursue theatre as their career, whilst others view theatre as a creative outlet. Whilst some of them love to be in front of the bright lights acting on stage, others prefer behind the scenes roles like script writing.
Alongside Liam, I spoke to Jess Rowlands (21), Fleur Moore (20) and Henry Roberts (18) who are members of the Collective, to get more of an insight into who they are and what they do. In their day-to-day lives Fleur is a hospital receptionist, Henry is in his second year of college and Jess is in her second year studying Interior Design at Solent University. Despite Covid-19 and lockdown, they have found ways to keep performing. It is their enjoyment, their escapism. The have been meeting on Zoom regularly, about three to four times a week, to write and perform plays. They introduced me to something new – radio plays! I was interested to find out more.
The Nuffield Collective’s first play is called The Noise We Make, released in August 2020 as a radio play (a dramatised, purely acoustic performance.) It follows twelve young adults who find themselves in a seemingly endless forest with no belongings or memories. People disappear, tensions heighten and friendships reach breaking point. This play has apocalyptic undertones, exploring societies’ split view on trauma, guilt, trust and relationships when an environment seems beyond their control. The Nuffield Collective mentioned that the themes and emotions expressed in the play are linked to reality and their thoughts and feelings in response to the closure of NST.
The Noise We Make was pitched by Jess Rowlands, directed by Lucy Josephine Tiller and together the Collective produced, devised, and wrote the play. Due to lockdown restrictions and the rise of podcasts, the Collective agreed radio plays were the right move. This meant the group learnt a whole new range of skills including self-recording, editing, publishing and marketing – showing how adaptable, creative and passionate they are about their craft. Their talent and effort have not gone unnoticed. The Nuffield Collective have garnered support and interest from The National Youth Theatre, BBC Radio Solent and even James Graham (writer for stage and screen including ITV’s Quiz). The Collective said it feels surreal that they have been recognised, that they are proud of their achievements and are excited for the future ahead.
The Lost and the Damned is the name of the Collective’s second and latest play which was released on 26 February 2021. The play follows a young detective Thomas, who is suffering from a terminal illness and has lost his brother. It explores themes of family breakdown, death, lies and mystery – a very emotive play. This time the play was written and directed by one person, Henry Roberts. And so, the Collective say, the play had a clearer direction, quicker process and was efficiently created. They appreciated this because they could perform and publish their play swiftly. The Collective also mentioned how feedback from their audiences has been useful in improving their craft and shaping future plays. They agreed their second play was more refined – moving forward they will only get better.
I ended our conversation by asking the Collective where they see themselves in the next five years (around the time of City of Culture 2025 – hopefully in Southampton!), thinking about what their dream scenario would be. Henry said he would love to create original plays on stage and perform all around the country. Jess added that she would like the Collective to have their own building to call home, as well as putting on online shows. Finally, Fleur said she would love The Nuffield Collective to grow in numbers, with young people in the community joining and expanding it.
Thank you to Liam, Jess, Fleur and Henry for taking the time to speak with me. Overall the Nuffield Collective, with the guidance of Liam, have kept creating and excelled through difficult circumstances – in itself a truly inspiring tale.