To the Moon and Back: a saying I’m sure we all know. It is something my parents and I used to say to each other every night before I went to bed (sometimes we still do). It’s a phrase that explains the breadth of our love to one another as though it were the entire world or further. Realistically the moon isn’t as far away as Jupiter or Mars but that shorter distance gives us the hope that one day it is something we can reach, and the more we say those few words, the more our imaginations grow wild and the more the love we share expands. The more likely we are to reach the moon. I truly believe that Concrete Youth achieved exactly that. They reached the moon and back creating a show and space where we can share our love for one another no matter who we are. My heart grew through every word and every song.
Who are Concrete Youth?
Concrete Youth are a newly established theatre company based in Hull aiming to create performances for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities, something we do not see enough of
We’re passionate about developing work multi-sensory work that is enjoyable, comfortable, and accessible for our audiences. (Concrete Youth, 2019)
The environments they make open up a calming yet magical experience for audiences with special needs and PMLD using inspiring stories you can see, listen, and feel your way through.
We love what we do, and we want you to, too. (Concrete Youth, 2019)
Not only do they do performances but they run an education department offering workshops for schools, after-schools clubs, and private LAMDA tuition with all of the facilitators being DBS checked, public liability insured, first-aid trained, and Makaton trained.
Why is all this important?
Coming from someone who is seemingly able-bodied it could be asked, why is it important for us to get involved in such a company or watch any of their shows? Well, the answer is simple. In this day and age we fight for equality and diversity yet we know there is still so much injustice in the world. Many theatre companies are made up of able bodied people and theatre auditoriums only have a certain amount spaces for those in wheelchairs and it’s very rare to find topics suitable for those with special needs. I have found it more common to find production with audio description or sign language available for single performances but both tend to be segregated from the actual show. Only once have I seen an interpreter become a character on stage with all the other actors and that was in Hamlet directed by Simon Godwin in 2016. It is clearly becoming more popular if bigger companies like the RSC are doing it, yet it still hard to come by. The nature of the show still was not appropriate for many with special needs.
There is a big population of children’s shows and pantomimes, what makes shows for those with special needs and PMLD any different? Quite a lot. Though the story lines of the shows may be similar in some aspects, I believe that we aim to teach kids through theatre, hence why it is so commonly used in education. This is entirely possible for these shows, however I believe much more goes into them to create a whole world to be awe inspiring and enjoyable, something which we do very often get at all. In particular, the productions of Concrete Youth are multi-sensory, bringing in sand you can literally feel and smell, umbrellas that allow you to look up to the stars, moon cheese you can eat and taste. The stories become entirely believable as if you are the one living the adventure of the actors. For their specified audience, I imagine this makes a whole world of difference. Having theatre you can easily access and be a part of is a wonderful experience for anyone and now everyone can have that experience.
TO THE MOON AND BACK
HULL NEW THEATRE, 31ST AUGUST – 1ST SEPTEMBER 2019
Sophie Coward – Alex
Robert Wade – Gareth
Annabel Streeton – Lena
Daniel Swift – Writer and Director
Tess Fletcher – Songwriter and Musical Director
Ellie-Mae Allen – Designer
Ed Grimoldby – Projectionist
Jamie Nowell – Lighting Technician
Prit Chouhan – Makaton Consultant
‘Just think of it you and me, eating all of the cheese we can eat on the moon…’
Astronauts – Planet Earth needs you! Alex and dad, Gareth haven’t been getting on too well lately. After the death of his mother, Alex has thrown himself into writing his stories; his newest one is about space, but his Dad thinks all of his stories are childish. With the help of Lena, their new babysitter, Alex and his dad go on an adventure to the moon and back and together they save the world along with your help too! Travel through a meteor shower, make a wish upon a star and visit Mars and the moon!
Written and directed by Daniel Swift, with stunning music and lyrics by Tess Fletcher, Concrete Youth present their debut production – a multi-sensory, magical story exploring space, adventure and the importance of family, for young audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. (Concrete Youth, 2019)
Perhaps I’m not the best person to review a play like this when I am not their target audience, nonetheless I am all for gushing about the play whenever I can. I saw the production on Saturday 31st at 2pm. The audience seating was set end on with calming, jolly music waiting for us upon entrance. From the get go the energy of the performers was immense, immediately getting the audience on board with the adventures we were not only about to witness but go on ourselves. I’ll admit the audience amount wasn’t full, I’m sure due to the vast crowds at Freedom Festival, but the intimate spacing made it all that much better and more involving. Sophie Coward did a wonderful job of welcoming the audience into her imaginative storytelling world of asteroids and astronauts and although both Robert Wade and Annabel Streeton played the “grown-ups”, I was able to truly believe I could be a kid again, or at least I could access that crazy imagination I perhaps once had.
The piece itself was full of beautifully written and expressed storytelling, appropriately mixed in with emotion-filled music and lyrics that enhance both the plot and the experience. The lyrics felt just as creative as the story I believed Alex to be writing. Each of the performers sung with great stage presence whilst still maintaining a gentle touch. Each voice sounded beautiful, especially when harmonising together.
The design element was simple yet so effective. The basic bedroom offers a clear environment to understand the play yet adheres to all our adventures we had as children in our bedrooms. The cartoon style imagery of the projection design played to the theme of a child’s imagination, aiding supposed scene changes and adding moments of comedy in its most honest form – a simple visual representation of an anecdote.
I see projection as a window into the imagination of young Alex, a layered representation of the various stages of story telling taking place within their mind. (Ed Grimoldby in the Concrete Youth Programme, 2019)
I really appreciated how the lights effectively represented each space in which the characters found themselves. I also noticed many lights were often a mixture of more calming tones which I thought was a nice tough given the target audience.
Throughout the piece there were many opportunities for the audience to touch and experience the settings themselves, from tubs of diary-free “moon” cheese, suitable to be eaten if you wished (I apparently wished, though I’m not sure I liked the taste, it is definitely a strong and unusual taste), light-up Moon orbs, orange scented warm kinetic sand (Mars’ surface), rocks from space explosions, and black umbrellas holding up the floating planets of our solar system. Not to mention the soft fuzzy blankets to keep you comfy and warm when you’re floating around in space.
Overall the piece was thoroughly heart-warming, loving and enjoyable for all audiences. The writing and acting, songs and singing, direction and design work together splendidly to create a piece of theatre welcoming to all audiences offering inspiration for us to all work together to save planets and do what we love. The addition of the audience participatory aspects of items to really feel and the embedded Makaton sign language throughout, not only opens up the accessibility for audience members but inspires those who may be able bodied to learn more and help more where they can, and definitely to be more aware. The cast and company of Concrete Youth’s To the Moon and Back should be incredible proud of the show they have produced and I very much look forward to seeing more of what they do in the future!
All the best!
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