Theatre can help young people work through difficult issues

Plays like Castaways and Mandala’s earlier play Night Light can help young people confront issues that relate to them – that was the view of panellists at Cornerstone Theatre, Didcot, where Castaways played on Thurs September 20.

The post-show audience discussed ideas of disconnectedness, tribalism and conflict with the cast and director of Castaways, as well as professionals from Oxfordshire’s education, social and local authority services.

“Drama allows young people to ‘put out there’ difficult ideas and then learn from them. But this isn’t being covered in the classroom now; it’s no longer a core subject”, said Dr Ian Thompson, Associate Professor of English Education, Oxford University.

Joining him on stage were Lucy Butler, Director for Children’s Services, Oxfordshire County Council, Rabyah Khan, Councillor, Oxford City Council and Emmy O’Shaughnessy, Director of Oxford community arts centre Ark-T, Oxford., who said: “Arts have been wrenched out of schools because of the curriculum, so young people cannot develop the skills they need to deal with an opposing viewpoint. They don’t learn how to find resolution through talking rather than conflict.” Like Mandala Theatre Company, Ark-T uses creativity as a vehicle for personal development and social change.

When writing Castaways, author Atiha Sen Gupta drew on her own experience growing up in London and on a series of urban workshops run by Mandala’s artistic director Yasmin Sidhwa. “The workshops allowed me to hear what young  people are actually saying about the issues they face day-to-day”, Atiha commented.

In the play, the characters feel alienated from their community and each one suffers separation from a close family member. Castaways is a bold piece of writing which does not shy away from showing the circumstances that can lead vulnerable people into extremism.

“This play captures what is happening to young people in the UK right now and has a real impact on audiences”, commented George O’Shaughnessy from the Young Women’s Music Project after seeing Castaways at the start of the company’s autumn tour.

  • “An unforgettable and life-changing production…. Written by Atiha Sen Gupta, directed by Yasmin Sidhwa and brilliantly performed by its dynamic young cast, this is a play that doesn’t provide answers but forces us to think, and to think hard, about how our society values its young people, who are, after all one of its greatest resources and our best hope for the future.” Jenny Lewis, Oxford Times

You can see the play this autumn in Doncaster, St. Albans, Bristol, London, University of Essex and Canterbury. More info.

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