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Connecting communities through theatre

  • Date: 27 February 2014
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: Midlands

The Independent Scrutineers Theatre Company has developed an innovative play which has entertained and inspired more than 600 children from English and Polish communities in north Nottinghamshire.

The company’s debut production, ‘Charlie and the Cotton Wool Coat’, tells the story of a young boy who lives with his Polish Grandmother, fondly known as babcia.

Charlie’s babcia lovingly protects him, wrapping him in cotton wool coated advice. But one night, Charlie slips out of the house to explore and along the way he has a few unexpected adventures.  

Aimed at children aged between 5 and 7 years old, this new play inspires an interest in creativity, putting them at the centre of the creative process.

Getting creative

The project, which is funded by the National Lottery through our Grants for the arts programme, offers children from north Nottinghamshire the opportunity to experience and enjoy the arts outside the classroom.

In the run-up to rehearsals, the Independent Scrutineers held a programme of workshops at Mansfield Museum, giving children in Key Stage One the opportunity to be part of the creative process of producing a play.

At these workshops, the children recorded narration and crafted their own characters which were animated and used as part of the final production.

By combining live theatre, puppetry and music with the animated characters and sound scape produced by the children, The Independent Scrutineers bought the story of Charlie and his babcia to life in a captivating and magical way.

“Having ‘Charlie and the Cotton Wool Coat’ in Mansfield Museum has been brilliant! The building has been full of creativity, laughter, music and song,” said Jodie Henshaw, Museum Development Officer, Mansfield Museum.

“The museum already has great links with local primary schools so it was great to be able to offer them a new experience. This project has given us the confidence to try different creative activities.”

Inspiring an interest

On the day of each performance, the children were welcomed in to the museum with live violin music, followed by an interactive introduction to a day of storytelling and creativity, which included a traditional Polish Polka dance.

An array of activities from puppet making to paper plane flying kept the children captivated. Each activity linked to a different part of the play, exploring how a piece of theatre is created.

In the afternoon, the children settled down to watch The Independent Scrutineers perform ‘Charlie and the Cotton Wool Coat’, followed by a demonstration of how the puppets used in the play were all made and manipulated.

“We decided to work in Mansfield because we knew there were many young people with limited access to the arts. We wanted to introduce this audience to the mechanics of making theatre by showing them how everything works and involving them in the process,” said Becky Matter, Creative Director, The Independent Scrutineers.

“Since then, some of the schools we’ve worked with have talked about trying animation, shadow theatre and puppet making on their own. As they begin to make their own theatre, hopefully they will decide to experience more live work.”

Connecting communities

Through their workshops and performances The Independent Scrutineers connected with more than 600 children from across north Nottinghamshire; an area with low engagement with the arts. Amongst these were children from both Polish and English backgrounds.

“The large Polish population in Mansfield is a richness that we want to tap into, so we decided to use both English and Polish in the piece, and to have a sympathetic Polish character at the heart of it,” explains Becky.

“Our decision was borne out immediately when we worked with the first school group. At the first mention of the word “babcia” the faces of children from Polish families lit up.

“We found through the process that it was so valuable for children of Polish descent to hear their home language shared with their peers. It seemed to give them a kudos and value. Whenever elements of Polish culture were shared it was received with joy and Polish school staff and parents were as delighted as the children.”

Shared voices

“A lot of Polish children are here in Britain with their immediate families, but the rest of their relatives remain in Poland,” said Yvonna Magda, Composer and Musician, The Independent Scrutineers.

This was also my experience, and whilst proud of my Polish heritage, as a child it can be difficult to share in your knowledge of a different culture. This project has enabled the children to make reference to that culture and share some of that experience with their English peers.”

Here’s what some of the children, teachers and parents had to say: