Message from our children

Loving Me

Patrick Centre

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

THEATRE, and its cousins cinema and TV, are powerful tools. They can affect, move, and entertain of courese, all those who watch generating passion, fear, laughter, despair, joy . . . all the emotions that make us human.

For those on the other side of the footlights theatre allows people to hide behind a mask of greasepaint and the cloak of other people's words while, paradoxically, finding and expressing themselves.

Loving Me is theatre in the raw, like a partly formed sculpture still with a few rough edges but with the subject clearly shining through. There were a few open wounds on show, a few moments of bitterness but above all it was a performance full of honesty, good humour and hope.

The cast are all, or were, looked after young people, a blanket term for those youngsters whose family has become the system, us, whether in childrens' homes or with foster parents – there is even an asylum seeker among their number hardly old enough to know why.

We use the names they used on stage, not their real names, and they all have their own idea of what love is and what it means to them.

There is Angel, always with a smile, who thinks love keeps us together and wants to make music, or Charmaine who sees love as music and performing arts.

Karina, shining like a diamond, who says you need love to be happy while Keisha finds love the feeling she has for people she loves. Long Gone Billy, all spiky energy, sees love as an act of defiance, two fingers up to the world while for Rina love is having someone out there who will like you no matter what, love is never being alone.

Daniel sees love as someone liking him for just being him, for being who he is while Morgan, sadly, does not know what love is.

STICK TOGETHER

Ashley sees love as something we should fight for when it is not there, that something bigger in our hearts. Shanice believes if you love someone you will stick together even though sometimes it can break your heart while Jim Bob sees love as flowing from the heart.

Miss Twigg, a student on placement from Newman University, sees love as a battle. “Love can be the best feeling in the world but then it can sometimes leave people in bad places when they do not get the love they deserve”, while Johnny McCaffrey, another Newman student says love radiates, something that can be given and received.

The youngsters have been short of rehearsal time, the first full run through ended an hour before the first performance, but no one would have known with a performance full of enthusiasm and confidence.

The first act was a series of sketches and events when we saw the problems such as homelessness and heard of the dark places the minds and lives of some of the youngsters had visited. We heard of a girl whose foster parents had beaten her, of abandonment and despair. But there was also the normality of teenage life, the relationships, the friendships and the laughs.

There were also some good original songs, raps and performance poems. It would be unfair to pick anyone out in what was a shared performance, a co-operative effort but no reviewer worthy of the name could fail to be impressed by either Angel's rap or a wonderful piece of performance poetry, and a feat of memory, from Ashley, or indeed songs from Charmaine, Long Gone Billy, Keisha, Pari, Daniel and Jim Bob.

HOUSEWIFE SUPERSTAR

The words were all their own as were their feelings and their experiences with a little guidance and polish from director Janice Connolly, better known as Stockport housewife superstar mum of five Barbara Nice, who is an accomplished actress and is also artistic director of Woman & Theatre, the organisation responsible for the show.

Janice said: “The inspiration for Loving Me came from a project that Women & Theatre were asked to deliver around school attendances and Looked After young people.

“It struck me how many of the young people we worked with enjoyed performing and had real talent. As Looked After young people, we, the public, are their parents. They are in our protection.

Are we being good enough parents, do we love them enough and do they love themselves?”

The result is a powerful piece of theatre which our children, after all they are in our care, have written for themselves.

The second act was a send up of a TV game show called Take Me Home where prospective foster parents had to compete to take home that night's star child in care. We saw the foster hopefuls who just wanted a baby of their own, someone who wanted  someone to help around the house, or slave labour as we call it, someone who wanted to compete with Angelina Jolie in the baby collection business, someone who just wanted to be on TV and someone just in it for the money. A telling indictment on society on so many levels not least the fact that the game show idea has probably even been considered in some TV executives idle moments.

Loving Me was produced with the help of Birmingham Hippodrome Education Department, an unheralded department in the shadow of shows such as The Lion King and War Horse which does valuable work with youngsters and the wider community.

It also had the benefit of the Hippodrome's technical team creating professional lighting and sound and theatre staff pitching in to do the front of house and backstage jobs any production needs - one front of house staff turning up to help even ended up on stage in the production - Janice Connolly can be very persuasive..

 Loving Me ended with an appearance by Birmingham's award winning playwright David Edgar, the Chair of the Eve Brook Scholarship Fund which gives grants to allow Birmingham care leavers to go to university.

He chaired a question and answer session with four of the cast as the panel and perhaps the most telling and saddest thing to come out was the fact that the four Looked After youngsters just wanted by be treated as human beings, treated like everyone else, on their merits as people. As they said it was not their fault they were in care.

You had to wonder at what abuse, prejudice and attitudes they had had to face from their fellow man in their young lives.

Apparently there are some 65,000 children in care in England alone, roughly the same as the population of Tamworth, and there is a shortage of more than 7,000 foster places. Had the forms been ready to be signed at the end everyone there would have been willing to sign up. The power of theatre. Loving Me runs to 15-02-13

Roger Clarke

To see the lyrics of the songs visit the Loving Me page on the Women And Theatre website

 http://www.womenandtheatre.co.uk/projects/loving-me/

 

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