“The performance was amazing! Big shout out to the writer, the actors and Lauren [the facilitator]. Learnt a lot.”
The national schools tour of People are Messy began in London on January 25th and the play arrives in the Thames Valley on February 1st. The above is a tweet (see @theatreofdebate) from a girl who saw it on day one.
Trying to raise the profile of patient and public involvement (PPI) in research through drama always felt like a risk. Was it a subject for drama? Was it too complex, or indeed too simple? Would the audience get bored? But we forged ahead, encouraged by Theatre of Debate’s past successes: enthralling kids with plays about the electronic patient record and clinical trials among them.
And sitting in a school on day two of the tour, surrounded by youngsters who were, by turns, silent, laughing, gasping, applauding and crying, I knew that Theatre of Debate – and the playwright Judith Johnson – had done it again.
The play itself is more moving than I had thought when I read it, and it is testament to the actors’ skill that it translates so well onto the stage. At one point (OK, two or maybe even three points), sitting in the back row of a school hall watching the youngsters utterly captivated and visibly moved, I contemplated trying to hide my own tears. But decided that on balance if any of them noticed a stranger 40 years their senior as moved as they were, it would do no harm.
The debate that followed the play, expertly facilitated by Lauren Buckley, held the audience’s attention for another 45 minutes. Hands shot up around the room as excited students jostled to offer their view on topics such as whether or not patients helping researchers plan and design their work was a good idea, and, where there is disagreement between such people, whose view should take precedence?
After the show drew to a close, I was chatting to the director, Nigel Townsend, who was relieved to see his efforts of the last year bear fruit so satisfyingly. After a few minutes, two girls who had been in the audience slunk back through the door in to the hall. “That was amazing” they said to Lauren “We’d like to thank the actors please, on behalf of our year group.”
The actors, who were changing behind a flimsy screen before grabbing lunch in the precious hour between the morning and afternoon show, took a while to emerge, during which time several more of the year group trickled back in too, and I could see more thronging around the door in the hall. It’s just possible that their interest in an exceptionally talented, good-looking and charismatic cast might have transcended their finer feelings about the intricacies of PPI, but you never know.
You can see People are Messy, free, in Oxford on February 10th and 12th.