Preview: NT Shell Connections, National Theatre, London

Self-harm, death and chatrooms
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The Independent Culture

For the producer of the National Theatre's annual Shell Connections festival, Suzy Graham-Adriani, it is a year-round job. As soon as one year's event is over, she sets about commissioning new scripts from established playwrights. "The best way of getting good scripts is approaching the writer with the intention of using the script," says Graham-Adriani. "The joy of this festival is that you see your play performed many times in very different ways."

For the producer of the National Theatre's annual Shell Connections festival, Suzy Graham-Adriani, it is a year-round job. As soon as one year's event is over, she sets about commissioning new scripts from established playwrights. "The best way of getting good scripts is approaching the writer with the intention of using the script," says Graham-Adriani. "The joy of this festival is that you see your play performed many times in very different ways."

Produced by the National Theatre, Shell Connections affords youth theatres the chance to perform new plays at their home venue and at regional festivals. For the grand finale, 12 school and youth groups have been chosen out of nearly 300 to perform this year's nine plays and one musical on the NT's Olivier and Cottesloe stages.

"Themes in the plays this year includes death, Internet chatrooms and self-harming," says Graham-Adriani. Productions include Chatroom by Enda Walsh (Disco Pigs); Blooded by Isabel Wright (Peepshow for Frantic Assembly) and Lunch in Venice by Nick Dear (Power at the National Theatre).

Two plays are repeated in the final line-up. Geoffrey Case's Samurai concerns a boy called Yuki who saves the city of Utagowa from famine by bringing its citizens a magical sword . "This was the most popular choice with 42 versions being performed," says Graham-Adriani.Citizenship, about a teenage boy discovering his sexual orientation, is by Mark Ravenhill (of Shopping and F***ing fame). "I asked The National Youth Theatre to be in the festival before I chose the others, and this is the play they want to perform."

Why one musical? Through the Wire by Catherine Johnson (Mamma Mia!) is set in a young offenders' institute. "She said she would really like to write a musical," says Graham-Adriani. "It is a humdinger - warm and incredibly funny."

6 to 12 July (020-7452 3000; www.nationaltheatre.org.uk)

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