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BWW Feature: The CURIOUS INCIDENT of the Schools Theatre Tour


BWW Feature: The CURIOUS INCIDENT of the Schools Theatre Tour

Even the exceptionally wet weather couldn't dampen spirits in the sports hall of St Mary's and St John's CE School in north London last Tuesday. But what was BroadwayWorld doing in such a place?

Don't worry - we haven't suddenly decided that Year 9 badminton practice qualifies as immersive theatre. We were there to join the launch of the National Theatre's schools tour of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Following its successful 2018 initiative, the National is once again taking a 90-minute, interval-free version of the show to be seen by 13,000 students in secondary schools throughout the National Theatre's six Theatre Nation partner areas this autumn.

Paula Hamilton, Deputy Director of Learning at the National, explained to BroadwayWorld that schools are prioritised based on criteria such as the pupil premium, free school meals and access to theatres locally.

"The clear trajectory is to re-engage schools with the idea of theatre being a brilliant springboard for teaching and learning. Schools are often in difficult circumstances, but things like this are useful for English and Drama, and reconnect the schools with their local theatres.

"We arrange sessions open to all teachers in each area, to do some practical exercises and give them resources for lessons. It's a gift to drama teachers!" The contact between the kids and the actors and crew also proves that they're ordinary people: "It makes them think 'I could do that!'"

If last week's launch event is anything to go by, the initiative will once again be a resounding success.

For the most part, the pupils watched in near silence, in some cases probably cautiously feeling their way into their first experience of live theatre performance.

A few titters and giggles could be heard at some of the swears that pepper the script. Hands covered mouths in surprise at the reveal of some key twists. Delighted looks and brief whispers were exchanged between neighbours to share a quick thought on what was happening. Expressions of sheer captivation were obvious, in particular during the play's several intricately choreographed movement portions.

After each in-the-round performance, allowing pupils to literally get within touching distance of the action, the cast and crew hold a short Q&A session. This is beautifully managed to encourage questions, with the cast members first taking a few minutes to chat with the pupils in small groups, then moving on to a full Q&A.

The questions were wide-ranging. Key plot points, character traits ("Is Christopher autistic?") and motivation ("Did Ed and Judy get back together?") were all touched upon.

Several pupils wanted to know more about the acting side of things: "How long did it take you to learn the lines and the movements?", "How do you keep a straight face for so long?", "Why do you get so sweaty?".

It was great to hear some also asking about the staging: "How do you get into stage management and design?", "What was the hardest bit about turning a book into a play?", "Why is the stage full of squares and letters?".

The cast answered all the questions fully and simply, and shared some useful tips for kids who might be interested in exploring theatrical careers in the future.

For example, learning lines takes repetition and drilling, and it's good to practice by getting your family to read the lines with you. Also, it's worth trying out all roles to do with theatre - both on- and offstage - to see what you enjoy doing most, and pursue that.

All in all, I have to admit that the whole morning made me feel slightly envious - firstly that I'm now probably older than many of the kids' parents, but secondly (and more seriously) that such an initiative didn't come to my own secondary school to kickstart a lifelong love of theatre.

If the two pupils I had a quick chat with after the show - Suki and Fuad - are anything to go by, they're extremely appreciative.

How did they feel this experience was different to watching something on YouTube, Netflix or TV?

For Suki: "You can really feel the music and what's going on - because they're so close to you and because their voices are live, you can feel it inside." Fuad agreed: "The music and lighting adds a different feeling to just watching it on TV - you're experiencing it first-hand."

What were their favourite parts of the show?

Suki enjoyed the parts where you really feel what Christopher is feeling: "When he's in his worst moments, those parts are really moving." Fuad, on the other hand, picked out one of the comic moments, showing that the show can be enjoyed in many different ways: "I liked the scene in the train bathroom, because of the humour - it's something that shouldn't really be funny, but it was!".

Was there anything in the show that they particularly related to?

It made Fuad think of his younger siblings: "My little brothers sometimes have tantrums a bit like Christopher's!". Suki appreciated the portrayal of how Christopher feels when someone shouts at him: "Normally you wouldn't break down on the floor, even though sometimes that's what you want to do, so I think that's relatable."

And do they think that if there was someone like Christopher at their school, they'd be his friend?

Both acknowledge that it could be tricky, but would be willing to try. Suki said: "I feel like he needs a friend, so if someone like him wanted to spend time with me, I think I would." For Fuad, the key would be having something in common: "Because of his personality it could be a bit difficult, but if we had stuff in common - I like maths too - that would definitely help."

We also managed to grab a few words with Mark Haddon, the author of the book from which the play is adapted, who had come along to the tour launch.

The team first realised the play could work in a stripped-down version for young people after its West End home, the Apollo, had to go dark for a couple of months after the roof collapse in December 2013. The play moved temporarily to Stratford Town Hall, and various school groups came to watch.

So does Mark think this schools' version puts a different spin on the story?

He replies that it does slightly, but "you get used to the text changing in a long-running play that changes venue and formats. Being in the round, the schools' version is actually very reminiscent of the original version in the Cottesloe at the National. Also, stripping it down and making it a bit shorter is helpful for the young mind!"

What impact does Mark hope this incarnation of the play will have on its young audiences?

"Aside from giving a sense of welcoming and putting yourself in the shoes of outsiders, I'd love it to make lots of kids excited about theatre. I'd love to think that a number of kids who were here today will now think 'I must get to the theatre'."

And how does he feel watching the kids watching the show?

Mark says it's interesting to see the range of reactions. "The big difference can be how relaxed the kids feel about reacting. Often, kids who haven't been to the theatre take a while to work out what they can and can't do, so there's usually a bit of nervousness about reacting openly."

Putting on a full professional production in school premises - complete with set, lighting and soundtrack - can of course be a challenge. Mark recalls one school on the last tour where "someone wanted to get across the hall to take a letter to the headmistress's office - one of the actors actually had to take the letter across the stage, in character!"

But for the National, this sort of thing comes with the territory. As Paula Hamilton says: "You just have to be relaxed about the things you can't control!"

By the end of this autumn's tour, the show will have been to every secondary school in Wolverhampton (in partnership with The Grand), and it will also be brought to more schools in Outer East London (in partnership with the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch), Wakefield (with the Theatre Royal Wakefield), Doncaster (with Cast), Sunderland (with Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire) and Greater Manchester (with The Lowry).

Photo credit: TheOtherRichard

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