29 May 2019

Last week, 28 lower school pupils gave two performances of a play they had largely devised themselves called Futures. The play, staged in the Amey Theatre, with a fabulous painted stage floor designed by the Amey Theatre Technical Crew, posed its adult audiences a question: “Do you remember what it's like to be us? Half-way between an adult and a baby?” In a mix of episodic scenes, original film clips and projections, the large cast of 11 and 12 year-olds attempted to remind those of us for whom childhood is now ever more remote, what it's like to be young. 

The inspiration for the show came from a London-based youth theatre group called Company Three that aims to create “a space in which young people can talk to adults, and in which adults will really listen.” In September, 30 lower school boys began sharing their experiences of being 11 or 12. Scenes were generated through a mixture of research, questionnaires, free-writing and improvisation. An early idea was to compare the boys' experiences with those of an older generation, and an exploratory visit was made to Station House in Abingdon, a residential care home for the elderly, but the logistics of filming interviews there proved too difficult. However, the school archive came to the rescue in the form of two short films made by Abingdon schoolboys – one in 1955, the other in 2003 – which capture something of the challenge faced by boys arriving at a large secondary school, albeit nearly 50 years apart. We noticed that while many things have changed, some essentials have not.

The students were both brave and generous in sharing their experiences. It’s easy to forget how challenging it can be for young boys to share their thoughts and feelings, especially in such a fast-paced environment as Abingdon. The resulting show was warmly appreciated by the parents of the actors, who also contributed by sharing old photos and words of wisdom for the final scene to add their voices to the conversation. Audience feedback declared the show “funny, touching and thought-provoking” and “very moving, with some wonderfully humorous touches”.

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