Thursday 20 December 2007

Full Time

Y Touring Theatre

Girls who want to play football, Asian kids who can’t get selected, others beaten up because they’re gay – this era-defining play, which will tour UK schools next autumn, ticks all the boxes. As Steve, our hip young host tells the kids in the schools ‘you can be homophobic against heterosexuals too’. With these words ringing in our confused ears, the sad (because its, like, real) spectacle began.

Don’t listen to naïve critics who complain that the world isn’t really full of hatred and abuse, and that our schools are anything but a hotbed of prejudice, violence and battered human frailty. As we were reminded throughout this piece by Rachel Wagstaff – the world is indeed a ‘messed up’ place. We need to get real with kids and make sure they are hearing that message loud and clear. In fact we could do with more awareness-promoting outreach-oriented theatre like this production if they are going to cope with life in general. Like the helplines ‘for those affected’ by a particularly thought-provoking and harrowing (oh, it can be harrowing) episode of Hollyoaks, the kids can’t get enough of this sort of thing.

Full Time is gripping stuff, and Wagstaff certainly has a knack for holding an audience in open-mouthed disbelief, and affecting us. You see, life really is like this. Sure, the giggly girls in the front row might treat it as a bit of fun when the boys take off their tops in the changing room scene. But as the ever right-on Steve assured the assembled luminaries (including a rather ‘with it’ looking vicar), they would remove the offending scene like a flash (if you’ll excuse the pun) should it offend any of the schools they hope to visit. It’s good to see that not only are the Y Touring Theatre Company engaged in the making of challenging theatre – including use of the word ‘paki’ (again, they’ll remove it if you like, schools) – but they also hold the anxieties of concerned head teachers up and down the land in high regard too.

This is not to detract from the importance of telling it ‘like it is’ to young people, which sometimes involves making them aware not only of what is appropriate, but also about the impact of the inappropriate use of language too. That we can begin to tackle (there I go again!) the wrong thoughts that might otherwise persist in young minds is very important. Indeed, it is only in this way that we can be sure that the right-thinking, inoffensive and tolerant worldview, of which you and I have been made all too aware, is transmitted to the next generation at every available opportunity. To what better end can theatre be put than engaging vulnerable young people with important issues?

We need to be vigilant though, as Steve made all too clear. Apparently, there are young people who continue to use the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory fashion, to denote their distaste. Of course, given the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the schools, that is not a word that could be used to describe Full Time. Indeed, we can only hope that community arts projects like this continue to spread the word (as the good vicar might say).

This is why it was so wonderful to see so many forward-looking organisations sat on the Full Time Advisory Group, with editorial contributions from the Football Association (FA), the Women’s Football Foundation, the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation, Stonewall, Kick it Out, Rainbow Nation, Sporting Equals and (last but not least) the Homeless World Cup. Never was there a better advertisement for dramatic writing by committee. That is what real theatre is all about – engaging with ‘real’ issues, and being relevant to the lives of our at risk and traumatised young people. Let’s have no more ludicrous ideas about taking kids ‘out of themselves’ with Shakespeare and the like. This is why football is such a great vehicle for engaging young people at a ‘level they understand’ as one of the excellent young actors (actually, they were) helpfully put it.

Sadly so engrossed were we by the debrief we ran out of time, and were unable to repeat the electronic vote we took part in before the play started. Suffice to say there are a minority of people who continue to believe that there is no need to kick racism, homophobia, and female-footy hating out of the game. They seem to think there isn’t a big problem with prejudice. (No doubt they also think that a bit of ‘healthy’ competition is a good thing.) I’ve even heard some disparage women’s football as a bit ‘gay’ anyway and not to be encouraged! Nevertheless, it was heartening to see a large majority in favour of stamping down on such dissent, and creating the ‘healthy society’ that the Y Touring Theatre Company is on a mission to promote. Who could object to that?


Full Time will be touring in autumn 2008.


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The Stage
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Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
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Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

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