Theatre challenge of convention

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Schools up and down the country are already showing how the issues can be explored

Children's rights is a low-profile issue in the United Kingdom and, let's face it, hardly the most promising theme for a theatrical production. But Brighton Youth Theatre is one of four youth organisations that took up the challenge of Save the Children and Youth Clubs UK to devise an artistic piece that addressed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It was a challenge that yielded rewards. Not only did the dozen or so 13 to 20-year-olds from Brighton and Hove, East Sussex, create a complex and entertaining theatre piece, but, more to the point, they learned an awful lot about why the UN convention exists.

Under the direction of youth theatre leader Julia Box, the young people researched their contribution to the Right Now project for about a year. As well as working alone, researching the UN convention and abuses of children's rights, they attended weekend residential courses run by Save the Children, at which they met members of the other three youth groups involved.

The result is Babes in the Wood, a 30-minute performance that draws as much on the actors' own experiences of childhood as on abuses of children's rights throughout the world.

The production veers between what is best described as public service theatre and strong, impressionistic vignettes based on the menacing fairy tales of childhood.

In one sequence, a masked mother and father abandon Hansel and Gretel in the woods, where they are soon encircled by figures singing: "Nobody loves you. Everybody hates you." The children are robbed of everything they ever wanted, which ties in with the UN convention's statement that children have a right to adequate protection, health care, food, education, play and so on.

For the participants, involvement has been an eye-opener. Ebonie Allard, 17, says: "I'd always thought those sort of things didn't happen in this country. Doing this play has taught us not to look at life as like Neighbours." Caz Holmberg, 14, adds: "I realise now we're meant to have a voice, but don't. "

But within this project, the young people do have a voice - one that will be shared with others when the youth theatre performs its play to local youth groups during National Youth Work Week in November.

Andrew Hutchinson, Save the Children's head of education, is so impressed with the group's work he hopes to use it as a template for others. "I'd like to develop the approach and will be encouraging them to write up the process so we can make it available to other groups. Imaginative drama teachers could also adopt this way of working, using children's experiences as a stimulus for looking at the convention," he says.

For details of performances of Babes in the Wood, write to Julie Box, Brighton Youth Centre, 64 Edward Street, Brighton.

For more information on Right Now and for a briefing sheet on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, contact Save the Children's education department on 0171 703 5400

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