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Actors to protest at 'diminished' arts

First it was the world of pop which turned against New Labour. Then comedian Ben Elton joined the fray. And this Sunday sees the start of what will no doubt be called Luvvies against Labour.

A rich mix of classical actors and musicians is to gather in Birmingham's Rep. Before an audience of parents, teacher and pupils they are to champion the cause of arts education.

One of the leading lights of the campaign is Corin Redgrave, the Shakespearean actor, who has criticised the Government for its "contradictory attitudes".

"On the one hand Labour is brazenly trumpeting the commercial success of the arts, but it has an utterly different attitude to the role the arts play in the lives of children. The arts have a civilising and socialising role and they are being vastly diminished," he told The TES.

When he first started his stage career every theatre had a young people's group, or a theatre-in-education team, he said. Now only a handful remain.

The Birmingham event, called "Gradgrind's Children," was the idea of Ceri Townsend and Maria Gee from Big Brum Theatre in Education. They were driven to act by Labour's announcement that the primary curriculum was to be relaxed to allow schools to concentrate on literacy and numeracy.

At the time, Ms Townsend said, they were running a programme for schools based on the work of a pioneering headteacher in a deprived area of the city back in the 1940s. He taught the curriculum through the arts with phenomenal results - literacy and numeracy rates rocketed, she said.

The title of the event is taken from Dickens's character, Gradgrind in Hard Times who famously said: "You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. " The event's supporters include playwright Edward Bond, actor Simon Callow, Dorothy Heathcote, pioneer of drama in education, Steven Rose, the neuroscientist, Christine Blower, ex-president of the National Union of Teachers, and Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer.

Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor, and Adrian Noble, director of the Royal Shakespeare Company have backed the campaign from Japan and New York, respectively, where they are on tour.

Jenny Edwardes, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, said: "The Government has taken a policy decision which will lead to the amputation of children's imagination. " Gradgrind's Children will take place on Sunday May 31 at 7pm. Tickets available from The Birmingham Rep, tel. 0121 236 4455.

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