Let the sun shine in

16th May 1997 at 01:00
Several men and women in shimmering, brightly-coloured tutus and tights, with glittering birdsnest wigs on their heads are walking and prancing among a group of young people and staff under a tent-like dome erected in the centre of a school hall. Occasionally they take up an instrument and play it or pause to waft a feather in the faces of the young people or to spray fine mist at them.

The scene has more purpose than is immediately apparent. It is the Oily Cart Company, a children's theatre company, at work, and the young people are a group often neglected by such troupes, those with profound to multiple learning disabilities.

After many years' experience working with children in schools (including special schools), nurseries, playgroups and other venues, the company has recently begun devising programmes specially for these most severely handicapped of children. During the past few months it has been presenting the show around the UK, and on April 28 was at Tuke School in Peckham, south London, a school for students aged 11-19 with severe learning difficulties.

"We try to engage with the young people in a highly sensory and interactive way," says Tim Webb, the company's director, of the group of 12 or so students who enter the hall mostly in wheelchairs. They have hearing andor visual impairment and often no speech.

In the context of a story about the four Sky People - Rainy, Sunny, Misty and Windy - the troupe offers a range of different experiences, requiring the use of an assortment of ingenious props, for example puffers, to blow a breeze in the pupils' faces, make-up brushes to brush hands and feet, feathers and bags of marbles.

Children are rocked in hammocks or garden chairs; are shown beautiful boxes in which there are things to see or feel - in one, wind blows, in another, light shines.

The staff at Tuke School, who accompany the children almost on a on-to-one basis, enter into it all with obvious pleasure. Their cooperation is crucial to the show's success. "If the staff were not sympathetic to what we are doing we would be in a lot of trouble," says Tim Webb.

The day costs Pounds 340 (plus VAT). Each school receives a pack and an audiocassette of the music

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