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Taking Steps at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Young people's experiences in their own voices
Birmingham-based Women & Theatre have for decades created performance with a social message and given voice to those who often go unheard. In their latest project, Moving On, the team are working with young people who have experienced care to hear, explore and tell their stories.

This performance, Taking Steps, brings together some of those stories in a mosaic of characters and experiences which highlight the dilemmas and difficulties faced by some young people as they move on from being children in care to independent adults.

Women and Theatre Taking Steps
Women and Theatre Taking Steps

Written by Women & Theatre artistic director Janice Connolly, the script is based on discussions and interviews with young people so the tales are grounded in their realities and seen through their eyes. The stories are told by three care workers, Yvonne, Amber and Brandon played by Alison Belbin, Adaya Henry and Ty'rone Haughton. Each play out a series of scenarios where they meet, call or have an online chat with a young person whose voice we hear.

So we meet Eugene who has started college and was taking really positive steps until his cousin started handing over drugs. Then there is Macey Mae whose mental health problems have resulted in her being sectioned and dosed up with anti-depressants but whose need for individual care is ignored. And there is Abbas whose lack of English means he is unable to communicate other than through an interpreter who chooses which words to interpret.

What comes through these meetings is the dedication of the care workers who will ignore the fact they are on annual leave to raise concerns about a young man they have seen mixing with the 'wrong crowd' or will drop everything to go to the police station when a young woman is arrested for shoplifting.

And there is also a sense of trust from the young people who turn to the care workers with every query under the sun from 'how do I cook lasagne' and 'there's a squirrel in the attic' to 'my baby and I are homeless' and 'I have no money and I'm hungry'.

Directed by Jo Gleave and designed by Dawn Allsopp, the set is simple – three desks with chairs, laptops and mobile phones but these are the tools needed to ensure communication channels are kept open with the young people. The show is supplemented by film and projection created by Duncan Grimley which enables us to hear the voices of the young people.

Women and Theatre Taking Steps
Listening to the voices of young people

Moving On is a two-year creative project which sees Women & Theatre holding workshops with young people not only to give them voice but also to build skills and confidence and the performance was preceded by some of the members presenting to the audience.

And those audiences cannot fail to be moved by the huge obstacles faced by some of these young people as they step into adulthood and independence as well as by the unstinting work of those who support them. The show is a rare glimpse into just some of these difficulties but there is also an optimism in the tale – with the right support and a good deal of determination we feel confident that many of these young adults will successfully take the steps they need.

In one of the recordings a young person is told they will be 'amazing' and they respond 'why do I have to be amazing, I just want to be me' and this performance reminds us that behind those labels of 'children in care' and 'transitioning' lie individual young people with individual problems but also individual solutions.

The production, which is followed by a post-show discussion, is performed at Birmingham Hippodrome's Patrick Studio until January 21.
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Why? A rare glimpse into the lives of young people leaving care
When: 20-21 January 2022
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome Patrick Studio
Cost: £10
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