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Yes, theatre really does make a difference

Silver Birch

Need more proof that drama transforms young lives? I think most of us are already convinced but if you need evidence to support an argument with the unenlightened then I’ve seen three in the last week.

First there was The Midnight Gang at Chickenshed (awful place to get to from London’s deep south but always worth it when you make the effort). Chickenshed’s whole raison d’etre is inclusivity so David Walliams’s story about a “misfits” making their own fun in a hospital ward was a marvellous match. And it was a real joy to see young actors, many of them trained for many years by Chickenshed right through to higher education level, doing a fine, professional job on stage. “Theatre changing lives” is no idle boast. No wonder, David Walliams, who was in the audience and spoke at the end the night I was there, said that he had “welled up” during the show. It runs until 6 August so there’s still time to catch it.

Then there was The Hunting of the Snark which continues at Vaudeville Theatre in London’s The Strand until early September. It’s one of the funniest, most original shows for young children I’ve seen in ages and it certainly goes to show that Lewis Carroll’s deliberately daft 150 year old poem has still got what it takes. All the children around me – there’s a tiny bit of audience participation – were shiny eyed, engaged and laughing. More lives being enhanced.

Silver Birch which ran for three performances last weekend was Garsington Opera’s community show. With a cast of 180 based around six professionals, it included people of all ages (the youngest child was a year old and there were many silver heads) some with disabilities and some who are dealing with issues such as post traumatic stress disorder or domestic violence. The piece (byJessica Duchen and Roxanna Panufnik)  is about a young man who serves in Iraq and returns to his family, damaged by his experiences. It’s powerful stuff. And it’s wonderful to see all those participants, fizzing with confidence,  bubbling with excitement and producing work of such high quality. At the performance I saw there were children in the audience – not to mention Jay Smith, the man whose experiences in Iraq had provided some of the material for the plot.

Don’t ever belittle drama and theatre. It can, and often does, move mountains for people.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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