Diving into the Blue with Replay Theatre
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Drama and Dance officer, Gilly Campbell shares her experience of Replay Theatre Company's 'Into the Blue' which focuses on children and young people with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD).
Nestled away amongst the trees off the Brokerstown road in Lisburn, is a vibrant, large school, a special school called Parkview. The school provides high level education for around 200 pupils.
I’d never been into a special school and like most educational establishments, it had the same burbling noise of pupils gathering in corridors between classrooms, teachers and staff busy en route to the next lesson or meeting.
I was met warmly by the reception staff, who promptly signed me in via the very modern electronic registration system.
I was then taken through to the hydro-pool, where Replay Theatre Company’s Into the Blue cast was warming up vocally and physically in the pool. And then, three pupils along with a carer each came in to the room, cossies on, excited and it has to be said with some trepidation too.
The overwhelming sense that penetrates through this educational setting is that each young person has an absolutely bespoke, tailored and appropriate support framework in place to accommodate and facilitate individual additional needs and strengths. The carers were completely in-tune with each pupil’s dynamic energy and mood. I witnessed what seemed like a telepathic relationship between pupil and carer. Without spending time in any other part of the school, I felt like I was seeing a snap-shot of what is probably embedded throughout the school; a practice of supporting individual needs with utmost care and respect.
The performers closely observed, listened and picked up on the excitement and trepidation from their audience, who were supported in entering the pool either down the steps, or via a hoist. This careful and measured ‘listening’ assisted the transition and enabled each performer to have a better understanding of what their participant/audience member may feel, or how they may react to what was to come.
Into the Blue was developed by Replay’s previous Artistic Director, Anna Newell in collaboration with Composer, David Goodall.
The work was developed as part of Replay’s UP programme dedicated to children and young people with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) and those who live and work with them. Into the Blue is a ‘blissful journey’ which ‘takes its audiences through gentle waves, bubbling whirlpools and out to the open sea’.
Theatre should be for everyone. This is an often bandied about proclamation and importantly the Arts Council has held central this objective that high quality arts should be accessible to all. What do we mean by all? Everyone. You. Me. Them. Us. And theatre doesn’t have to take place in a theatre. Some of the best theatre that I have seen has taken place in a taxi, a café, a street, and in a pool.
Into the Blue provides 20 minutes of beautiful, haunting and uplifting harmonising; with almost hypnotic movement in water delivering a choreographic stimulus of the senses. It is gentle, it is surprising, it is slick and it is staggeringly uplifting. It is, quite simply theatre at its best. Why? Because it utilises high quality artists, extracts their talents, creates something inventive for an audience which is welcomed, respected and cared for.
Importantly, what Into the Blue does is challenge some of the preconceptions that some may have of theatre. It demonstrates the value of the arts in every aspect our lives. It evidences that theatre and the arts more widely can have far reaching effects in terms of bringing people health and well-being benefits and, here’s the real gift, it can ignite and inspire our imaginations.
I was privileged to share this theatre experience with three young pupils from Parkview Special School and I am immensely proud of the work that Replay does to ensure that really good theatre, reaches really important audiences.
Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Drama & Dance Officer