Baby P play at Southwark Playhouse

 

 

By Sylvia Rowley

piano2It has dominated headlines and bulletins of late, but is the tragedy of Baby P fit material for a play? 

One theatre company certainly thinks so, and will stage a performance about the death of the Haringey toddler at Southwark Playhouse on Sunday.

The production, by theatre company Nabokov, boasts Olivier award-winning playwright Nicholas Wright amongst its team.

Director Nathan Curry insists that the play has not set out deliberately to shock. “We have to be sensitive – a child has died and that’s got to stay at the forefront of our minds,” he said. “But theatre should be challenging.”

The play will comprise four short dramas and three musical movements. Curry hopes that the production will give the audience a chance to explore their feelings about the tragedy. There will be a debate in the bar afterwards.

“We are not attempting to re-tell the actual story,” he continued. “We’re taking out the guts of the issue, the themes, questions and emotions, and dramatising them.

“The performance will raise questions like at what point do you take a baby away from a family? How has an adult’s childhood affected the way her or she treats a child?”

Composer Isobel Waller-Bridge wants to make the audience feel the full array of emotions she felt in reaction to the story of human cruelty. “It made me feel sick and angry and then just terrified and upset at the same time,” she said. “I’ve used instruments in a gritty way that I hope will make people feel quite uncomfortable.”

The troupe justifies adding its voice to the clamour by arguing they will take a different approach to much of the press coverage. Storyteller Rachel Rose Reid describes the media response to the Baby P story as a “vast and awful vat of very black-and-white, good-and-evil step parent stories”.

Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said that he supported the idea of a play so long as “it’s not in the business of finding someone to blame”.

“We’ve found the last week very frustrating,” he continued. “We’ve had 30 years of trial by media on the basis of cases that go wrong. It knocks the trust of the people who need the services.

“If the play can help people get a better understanding of the awesome responsibility placed on the shoulder of social workers then I welcome it.”

Not everyone shares his view. Jan, staff member at The Ark nursery in Bermondsey, said she thought Baby P was a “very delicate subject”, and that “some parents would find a play about the toddler shocking.”

The piece is ninth in a series of Present : Tense performances by theatre company Nabokov, involving playwrights, composers, directors and actors with only seven days to compose, write, cast and rehearse an entire performance relating to a topical news story. Past subjects have included Madeleine McCann and the Bali bombings.

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