Catholic schools' Aspire production, Dark Matter, to play at Civic Theatre

WHEN students from Hunter Catholic schools were rehearsing their annual Aspire production one night last year, they took a break to watch the International Space Station fly across the sky above the venue.

It was so inspiring that Anna Kerrigan, the artistic director of Aspire and the writer of its plays, made such a flight an element of this year’s work, Dark Matter.

In Dark Matter, which will be staged at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre from August 1 to 4, a clever but unliked girl who has just broken up with her popular boyfriend is looking forward to seeing an International Space Station flight. But when an unexplained incident leads the school to be placed in lockdown, the scared students could find themselves hidden away in classrooms when the space station flies over.

Aspire was established in 2011 to give students from years 5 to 11 the chance to develop skills in acting, singing, dance, playing musical instruments and performing in a band.

More than 680 students from 57 schools in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese auditioned this year, with 150 students chosen. They travel to Newcastle one day each week between February and August for tuition and rehearsing for the annual production.

And, while Anna Kerrigan writes the play’s script, the students have input also, suggesting changes during the workshops.

The central characters in Dark Matter, the troubled girl, Ellie, and one of her friends, Edmund, are played respectively by Caitlin Byron and Ollie Crawford. This is the first time Caitlin, 16, a year 11 student at St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen, has been an Aspire member. But Ollie, 17, who’s in year 11 at St Francis Xavier High School at Hamilton, has been with Aspire for seven years.

The show has a mix of well-known and original songs, with Ollie noting that in one number he and Caitlin change from walking to dancing. And, when the lockdown begins, they and other students hide under tables and come up with diverse views as to why the lockdown has taken place. And, as Anna Kerrigan notes, the audience get to see some of the scenarios they put forward played out.

She also points out that there are a lot of amusing moments in the play, which runs for around two hours plus an interval. The students, for example, see the school cleaners as the witches from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth because of the often hostile way they respond to people who approach them.