GCSE pupils add serious message to Hollywood slapstick, reports George Wright
FOR pupils at a Manchester high school, the custard pies and slapstick of Bugsy Malone seemed far removed from the gangland culture they observed on their doorsteps.
So when teachers suggested they stage a version of the Alan Parker film they decided to turn it into a gritty drama to teach their peers about the perils of guns and drugs.
Instead of splat guns and cutsie gangster-girl chic, pupils at St Peter's Roman Catholic high featured stark images of real crime scenes, gun and drug statistics and news reports on gang violence - projected on a huge screen behind the actors.
Liz Kennedy, head of creative arts at the school, said the Year 11 pupils, studying for an expressive arts GCSE, were initially apprehensive about tackling Bugsy Malone because it seemed so outdated.
"After we showed them the film, they wanted to choose a different play," she said. "But we persuaded them to tackle it and update it.
"As soon as they got into it they became really enthused. They saw how they could make it relate to what is happening around them. The sad thing is that most of our pupils have had some kind of experience with aspects of the Manchester gang scene.
"That is why I am so impressed with the maturity of their attitude. They did not want to use any guns as props because they did not want to glamorise them, so they represented them with violin cases.
"With help from me and the police and prison officers who came in to give talks, they chose the hard-hitting images that flashed up on the giant screen between scenes. I am very proud of their work."
Laura Berrington, 16, who played Tallulah (Jodie Foster's role in the film), said: "We sang all the original songs and kept some of the comedy, but we wanted it to have a serious message as well".
Daniel Thomas, 16, who played boxer Leroy Smith, said: "I know people who have guns, either for protection or because they are dealing drugs. We wanted to tell people about the consequences guns can have, and I think we succeeded in getting the message across.
"My friends said it was entertaining but it also made them think about the impact that guns and drugs have on people's lives."
The drama was funded with pound;1,500 from the Manchester Multi Agency Gang Strategy Group (MMAGS).
Helena Hodgson, the school police liaison officer, said: "I held sessions with pupils to show that it is not cool to be in a gang and that it is really dangerous to become embroiled in that culture. The play demonstrated this very realistically ."