A GWENT star of the West End stage is issuing a plea to save a school theatre company from closure.

In an open letter to the Arts Council of Wales, former member of Abergavenny-based Gwent Young People's Theatre, Caroline Sheen asks it not to cut £255,113 annual funding for Gwent Theatre.

Ms Sheen, 34, the cousin of Hollywood star Michael Sheen, who is currently playing the title role of Mary Poppins at the John F Kennedy Memorial Centre in Washington DC, was devastated by the decision to cease funding from next March.

The former Caerleon Comprehensive pupil, who was a member of the youth theatre for four years from the age of 14, branded the decision a crime.

"GYPT is just one part of the amazing world Gwent Theatre has created in the community," she said.

The actress who performed in adaptations of Arthur Miller's The Crucible and Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole with the group said she would not be where she is today if it weren't for Gwent Theatre.

"I can’t impress enough the importance of a group like GPYT," said Ms Sheen.

The youth theatre service puts on six productions a year and the professional actors hold four productions and more than 300 performances in schools throughout Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly.

"Please don’t deny the great kids we have in South Wales the same fantastic opportunities and experience I had," she added.

Ms Sheen started her acting career with Cwmbran Operatic Society and the Gwent Youth Theatre before moving onto the National Youth Theatre of Wales and Guildford School of Acting.

She has starred in West End musicals including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and has appeared on the small screen in Hotel Babylon, Doctors and Torchwood.

'Please, please reconsider and give others a chance'

Caroline Sheen's letter "I would like to ask you to reconsider the decision to cut funding to Gwent Theatre.

For many years I was a member of their youth section GWENT YOUNG PEOPLE’S THEATRE and performed with them in many plays, often improving my knowledge of Drama, which aided my studies at school in English, History and Theatre Studies.

“I can’t impress enough on you the importance of a group like GYPT. To be able to meet people with similar interests, to learn about that said interest from professional actors, technicians and directors, to perform in front or backstage of an audience are experiences which I believe to have given me confidence, self awareness, knowledge and above all the understanding that, when attention is paid, people underneath the gaze of that attention bloom into the best kind of people they can possibly be.

I made everlasting friendships at GYPT with people who have gone on to star in films, to lead political parties, to work in the West End in both plays and musicals, to form their own company, to direct huge international musicals and concerts, to win awards in music, to record albums, and yes to play Mary Poppins!

I highly doubt any of those people would be where they are today had they not had the FREE access to the talents of Gary Meredith, Stephen Badman, Julia Davies and the rest of the incredible band of people who have formed GWENT THEATRE over the years....

I know I would not be where I am today were it not for GWENT THEATRE.

Please don’t deny the great kids we have in South Wales the same fantastic opportunities and experiences I had. Please, please reconsider.


Caroline Sheen

Group left in the dark - AM

Newport East AM John Griffiths said the group needs to know what its future funding will be to enable it to retain staff and plan ahead with security.

Mr Griffiths understands from the Assembly’s culture minister that the Arts Council is consulting on a strategy to develop better ways to encourage high quality arts activities for young people as a priority.

A spokeswoman for the Arts Council said it was committed to doing all it could do to help Gwent Theatre consider its future options.