Casting announced for new show that not only listens to Stockton’s young people but makes them the stars of the show

Camp Phoenix Rehearsals - Zest Theatre & Stockton Riverside College

David Carpenter and Duane Gooden will join a company of local youth cast members in Camp Phoenix, an all-new production for young people by Zest Theatre.

Camp Phoenix has been directly developed through conversations with students from Stockton Riverside College, some of whom will make up the cast at each of the show’s performances at ARC on Thursday 1 and Friday 2 February.

Headshots of actors David Carpenter and Duane Gooden

David Carpenter, most known for playing series regular Conor Townsend in ITV’s The Bay, will star as seventeen-year-old Zia whilst Duane Gooden, whose recent credits include George in Kinky Boots at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, The Mayor in the – Olivier nominated – world premiere of The Book Thief at The Bolton Octagon Theatre and The Genie in Mickey & The Magician at Disneyland Paris, will appear as Les, Caretaker of the Camp and confidante to its attendees. The cast is joined by Voice of the Tannoy, Gillian Lees along with a troop of local youth cast members whose words of advice they’d wish they’d received before they started secondary school, became the crux of this brand-new show.

Camp Phoenix follows the journey of 17-year-old Zia (David Carpenter). When they arrive at Camp Phoenix for a compulsory weeklong residential, they aren’t sure if it’s for them. The camp helps young people emerge from the dust of their younger selves, just like a phoenix. Through regulated activities, young people develop the skills to rise into the next phase of their lives to become great citizens and employees.

But not everything goes to plan. When Zia and their newfound friends realise that the camp’s values don’t include everyone, they discover that the most valuable lessons are those learnt from the people around them.

Commissioned by Lincoln Arts Centre, Barnsley Civic and ARC Stockton, and written by Katie Greenall, Bush Theatre’s young company director, with new songs by loop artist Koko Brown, Camp Phoenix marks the return to making and touring theatre by Zest Theatre and is their first national theatre tour since becoming an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation.

Director Toby Ealden said: “At a time when young people continue to face a mental health crisis and remain unheard in broader society, productions like Camp Phoenix are vital. A moment to make space for each other, share their wisdom and have fun through creativity at venues right in the heart of the places they call home.”

Opening precisely four years since our last public theatre performance of Youthquake closed in Teesside weeks before the lockdown began, this new production feels like an exciting reset for the company. Camp Phoenix is our first national theatre tour since the pandemic and our first as a brand-new Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation. It’s serendipitous for us, that we premiere this show back on Teesside before returning home to Lincoln and touring to our other partner venues.

We’re excited to have given Katie Greenall and Koko Brown their first professional commissions as Writer and Songwriter, respectively. Working with young people across the country, they have crafted an energetic script and set of new songs that beautifully capture the hopes and fears of the young people we met in communities across the country.”

Camp Phoenix Rehearsals - Zest Theatre & Stockton Riverside College
Camp Phoenix Rehearsals - Zest Theatre & Stockton Riverside College

Camp Phoenix will run at ARC Stockton from Thursday 1 – Friday 2 February 2024, with performances at 1.30pm and 7pm. Book tickets here.

To find out more about the show and about Zest Theatre, please visit