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Youth theatre project set up in memory of Jo Cox

Batley and Spen Youth Theatre group workshop. Photo: Stage Shots Batley and Spen Youth Theatre group workshop. Photo: Stage Shots
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A new youth theatre group has been set up in Jo Cox’s former constituency to encourage young people to engage with the arts.

Leading West End figures including Cameron Mackintosh and Nicholas Allott are supporting the project, which aims to celebrate the legacy of the MP who was murdered in June 2016.

The first project announced for the Batley and Spen Youth Theatre group, Hear the People Sing, involves three tiers including a performance of Les Miserables, which was Cox’s favourite musical.

Producer Donna Munday, who has worked on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is producing the company’s initial project, and Nick Evans, whose credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, will direct the first performance.

A company of 120 young people aged 13 to 19, including 70 performers, 20 people in production roles and around 15 musicians, will undertake three weeks of intensive training.

This will culminate in a week of performances in Batley, West Yorkshire.

Mackintosh and Allott granted the rights to perform Les Miserables free of charge and are also providing further support. Former actor Tracy Brabin, who became MP for Batley and Spen following Cox’s death, is a patron for the scheme.

Others running the project, which is estimated to involve 100 volunteers, include performing arts teacher Vivienne Buckley, musical director Steve Moss, and choreographer Julie Hobday.

The second tier will be a production skills training project, which will see participants shadow and work alongside West End creatives to learn about offstage roles.

Additionally, the youth theatre will devise a piece of theatre called More in Common, which will “celebrate values Jo stood for”, including togetherness, collaboration, and equality.

Organisers aim to encourage young people to engage with theatre in an area where arts involvement levels are lower than the national average.

The project has launched a JustGiving charity fundraising page where donations can be made by members of the public.

Munday said: “Like everybody else, I found Jo’s death shocking and upsetting. Although I didn’t know her, it felt like something that demanded action.

“This project made me feel like I could use my theatre skills and experience to do something for the people of her constituency and celebrate the fact that Jo loved theatre.”

Brabin said it was essential to create opportunities for working-class children to engage with the arts.

“I know how transformative it can be and I want those opportunities to extend to those young people. Given our community’s love for Jo, Les Miserables was a really perfect choice,” she added.

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