I have just had the honour of watching Concrete Youth’s latest project – Shebaas Adventure to Jopplety How. In my attempts at writing more about theatre across my blog the name of ‘Concrete Youth’ crops up constantly as I’m forever in awe and inspired by the work my wonderful friends Dan and Belle, and the rest of the team, have achieved in the the past year and a half (roughly). Not to mention the most recent shortlisting for the Nielson’s Community Organisation Award for Disability at the National Diversity Awards 2020 which is in association with ITV News! Maybe I’m a little bias but I will always want to support their work however I can, and I truly believe you should to, here’s why…
A little recap on who Concrete Youth are!
Concrete Youth are a Hull-based theatre company aiming to give those with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) a chance at viewing exceptional theatre where perhaps your “standard” show would lapse. By creating inclusive storytelling and a multi-sensory experience for their audiences, their productions are lovable, warm, enjoyable for all. Last year I went along to view their debut show at Hull New Theatre and it was clear that everyone in the audience, those with and without PMLD, loved every second of the show leaving the theatre with a real sense of peace and pure joy. (I wrote a review which I shall link here as soon as I’ve transferred it over from my other site.)
Today, however, I am here to tell you about Sheebaa and her adventures in Concrete Youth’s newest production! One that has been made during the madness of the current world, fully socially distance (everything was completed via online video calls, filming in the actor’s own homes, with their own cameras, and their own green screens, edited together by FlyGirl Films!). The situations many of us have had to deal with over the past few months have been hard so the fact that this show is able to bring a bit of joy into the homes of those who are shielding!
Daniel Swift, the Aritistic Director, himself says “We’re delighted to be bringing this project to life, and very grateful to Two Ridings Community Foundation for their funding support on this project. Due to COVID-19, we’ve been unable to engage with our audiences in-person, so
we’re delighted to have the opportunity to create new, original theatre, that our audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities can access from the comfort of their own home, whilst shielding.”
A brief summary of Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How:
Shebaa The Sheep has never had any wool! She spends her days feeling different from all of the other sheep in her herd and it makes her feel very sad. After finding a book at her local library, Shebaa goes on a quest to meet the world’s most intelligent and wise creature in all of the land; The Wisdom Cow of Jopplety How in the hope that he can grant her one wish, to have a coat of wool her lamb friends would envy. Join Shebaa as she goes on an adventure, meets other furry friends on the way and learns that there are differences in the most unlikely of places.
Written by Elle Douglas and directed by Belle Streeton, the show, (or should we call it a film?), follows Shebaa who is deemed to be an outsider for her differences and in an attempt to find a way to be more like her friends, she sets off to find the Wisdom Cow. Along the way, she meets a number of creatures who help her find her way to the Wisdom Cow but I guess, also to wisdom itself. I believe the synopsis above explains the story better.
Having been fully directed and produced online and digitally, the story lends itself well to a filmed outcome making it easily accessible, not just in current times, but hopefully an idea that will continue into the future for those who maybe cannot physically get out to a theatre. The addition of constant sign language used throughout and optional closed captions aids the experience making it enjoyable for all. Jodie Hay and James Lewis Knight do a wonderful job and creating expression-full characters that are incredibly lovable. The simplistic costume and make up works perfectly against the green screened scenery in the background, together creating vibrant imagery to assist the hopeful script. Granted getting eye contact lines is difficult through this form of production, however, that is not something I expect younger ones to recognise. Given the circumstances I believer it was one Hull-uva job well done!
The story itself was full of meaning and morals that I believe anyone of any age and background should learn and follow. It’s important to be you, not worry about what everyone else thinks, and in fact, begin different is a blessing. We are all different and we should celebrate out differences. The fellow furry friends that we meet along the way each have their own differences [slight spoilers coming up]. Where Shebaa has no wool, the others are ridiculed because of their size, personality, or even that they are not from the local area, or the country for that matter. No of this mattered to Shebaa, instead there was so much more about each of these character that made them want to help. They were brave, determined, loyal, friendly, etc. All valued traits, but their differences are just as valued!
Throughout there are also a number of pauses with suggestions to explore a list of items that is given at the beginning. In the pre-show guide (available in large print) audiences are made aware of what to expect and the items they recommend collecting together before pressing play, along with suggestions on how to make some of the items. The show is not just the half an hour on film, it can be a whole afternoon or more crafting the props needed. All the props are aimed at being household items, easy to find in the kitchen or elsewhere. Traditionally, the actors of a Concrete Youth production enter the audience space to show a series of items, and allow members to touch, smell, and sometimes taste. Of course with no live audiences, and definitely no touching allowed, this new established way allows the company to achieve their aims from the comfort of their own homes (both the cast, crew and audience).
Overall it was such a lovely story and an inspired piece of theatre. It’s works like this that fill me with confidence for the future of the industry. If you have a friend or family member with PMLD, I 100% recommend booking a ticket which you can get via the Concrete Youth website. If you don’t, then I recommend it any way! I found it continually inspiring and kept trying to remember bits of sign language that was used, recognising the repetitions so not only is it a delightfully engaging form of theatrical entertainment, it is also an incredibly useful tool for those wanting to learn sign language. It definitely encouraged me to advance my limited sign language skills! I call out to other theatre companies up and down the country, and around the world, to witness the innovative works of Concrete Youth and begin to understand what the future of our creative industry could be. Live audiences will always play a big part of theatres but it is important that we work to change with the times making our works more inclusive both on and off stage, live or online. Once again, congratulations to Concrete Youth for their ingenious work and I wish you all the best on the future of this production and all the rest!