The word on the street is that support and provision for pupils with identified special educational needs is on the decrease, with a resulting rise in disrupted and interrupted lessons, which, at the risk of stating the obvious, isn’t healthy for anyone. Statements is a joyous yet poignant, exhilarating yet hard-hitting whirlwind tour of the world of SEN (special educational needs). That isn’t the only acronym bandied about by certain educational professionals, non-teachers who sit in proverbial ivory towers dreaming up initiatives that have little, if any, practical benefit.
The audience is introduced over the course of the evening to three pupils in this primary school, the exact location of which, unless I blatantly missed it being mentioned, remained unspecified. Perhaps it is better this way, so as not to appear to be making remarks, positive or negative, about any particular local education authority, focusing instead on the stories of the pupils, each with their own eccentricities and levels of required assistance. Then there’s Pete, the special educational needs co-ordinator – the school apparently goes by first names for members of staff, make of that what you will – and Chris, an agency teaching assistant. Pupils, teachers and more are played by Samuel Clayton in an almost frenetically paced production: one could quite palpably feel the pressure of the school day, week, term, and the toll taken on its rather overburdened staff.
The black box staging, with just a whiteboard and a few other props, helps to maintain a relentless drive and energy. The production does not feel rushed, however, even if its characters do. One barely draws breath reciting lyrics to entire songs (or so we are told – mercifully, for both actor and audience, the production dispenses with the actual recitation), while another just escapes from the school premises, or otherwise gets confrontational, with no predictability to the ‘fight or flight’ response.
This is, clearly, a thoroughly researched piece of theatre, and it helps that it’s so convincingly performed. At one point the theatre felt very much like a classroom – I didn’t realise it at the time, but I subconsciously corrected my posture so as to sit bolt upright. There are some very candid confessions from members of teaching staff, speaking about inspections, parents’ evenings, schemes of work, marking and other administrative activities.
What is especially heartening about this production is a distinct lack of preachiness. This isn’t an attempt to come up with a roadmap, like ‘seven steps to SENCO success’, or having a pop at the Department for Education. It simply paints a picture of life as it is for ‘statemented’ (hence the play’s title) pupils, having to overcome miscellaneous barriers thrown at them. But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are solutions, there are ways in which these students can be helped. None of the strategies used here, interestingly, would ever be found in an education policy document.
There’s room to expand on this production – I would love to know how these pupils got on in secondary school, for instance. How would they cope with adulthood? But even as it is this well-written and well-acted production is worth seeing. I came away with a more substantial understanding of special needs in the modern era, all while enjoying the proceedings of an excellent play. Now there’s a learning outcome if ever there was one. An A-star performance.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘Statements’ is a one hour, one-man show, written, directed and performed by Samuel Clayton and is based on his wide experience of working with children with a range of Special Educational Needs.
Daniel is obsessed with Jazz, but the world is too loud a place to hear what’s going on. Javeed doesn’t understand a word, but happily communicates with anybody by smiling. Toby makes a lot of noise, but nobody seems to listen…
“I had a chance
To find the music in the noise. Hear melodies and strive
To breathe through chaos all the while. Right now, I was alive!”
‘Statements’ introduces you to the parents, teachers, friends and professionals who touch the lives of three very different boys with one shared hope in life. From innocent observations of classmates to bureaucratic perplexities of Education Authorities, ‘Statements’ is a snapshot of what it means to grow up with a learning difficulty.
Catapult Theatre Company presents:
By Samuel Clayton
An exploration of Asperger’s, Down Syndrome and misunderstood emotions
At the King’s Head Theatre and the Bread & Roses Theatre
Company: Catapult Theatre Company
Venues and dates:
King’s Head Theatre:
Sunday 14th January – 7:00pm
Monday 15th January – 7:00pm
The Bread & Roses Theatre:
Tuesday 13th February – 7:30pm
Wednesday 14th February – 7:30pm
Thursday 15th February – 7:30pm
Friday 16th February – 7:30pm
Saturday 17th February – 7:30pm