It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio…
If ‘all theatre is political’ which Argentinian director Augusto Boal claimed, then children's theatre is no different. Of course no parent or adult wants to bring a children to see a play about fascism or the ideas of communism, or anything 'political' like that. Children know nothing about these things and why should they? No family wants - ‘a lovely time at the theatre having a shared experience dealing with complex political systems’. Systems which adults have constructed to organise and explain society.
But (and it's a big but) children do understand on an intuitive and human level, the ways of the world, their world, which from the moment they are born is political.
‘STATIk’, Action Transport Theatre’s current production is a wordless, clowning and physical theatre show set in a slightly despotic radio plant and it is probably one of the most overtly political productions I have ever been involved with. For ages 5 plus.
No one talks about the show in political terms but audiences (children and adults) really love it because in its own subversive way it undermines a fictional status quo and beautifully brings about the destruction of a regimented and oppressive world with a metaphorical 'banana skin’. It is Orwell's '1984' meets Laurel and Hardy.
At the heart of the story are 3 workers tasked with ensuring the transmission of a monotonous, repetitive radio broadcast which is absolute. A new worker has to fit into the factory line tuning and, setting the transmission (which for our purposes is 'blah blah blah') then boxing up the radios to be sent out, we assume to the masses.
All of this is told without any words apart from the odd quote from a child which makes up part of the soundtrack. These snippets of wisdom (real recordings from children) is what sets off a chain reaction that brings about chaos and the ultimate destruction of the factory regime.
The children's voices are spontaneously broadcast through a ‘rogue’ radio and with naive, youthful, simplicity and their truth and honesty is what undermines. In particular, it offers the perspective of one 5 year old boy called Lenny, who states that ‘there is only one of you’….’there is a whole one of you’………’superhero!’
The idea that reality is shaped by an ideology (communicated through the radio) is at work in the production - it's the world of ‘blah blah blah’.... and always will be. And the world is so owned by the two established factory workers, they take such pride in their individual parts, that the new kid automatically tows the line - everyone is susceptible to continuous brainwashing and everyone wants to fit in whether it's first day of playgroup, school or work.
Add to the monotonous factory line some individual benefits for the workers - shiny gold medals as the incentive and the system is solid. The gold medals create competition of course, ‘earn this and you are accepted’, ‘admired’, ‘valued’. ‘You are good’. Have more than the others and you are better than them. It doesn't matter what the radio is saying, just keep your eye on the reward.
Theatre really is the one space where we can hold up a mirror of our reality and see it objectively, as Bertold Brecht said it is 'making the familiar seem strange’. There are so many resonances within the world of the play to our current reality in the UK that it is hard to put your finger on where exactly the bell rings loudest. Certainly one of the biggest messages from the performance is the need for us to see when something is not fair. To question authority.
In relation to children’s lives the world of the factory relates to an education system which is focussed on a narrow and prescriptive set of values, where gold stars are the be all and end all. Perhaps most importantly, the show reveals the idea that we are so used to the sound of existing narratives (…immigration, austerity) that we believe the ideas as if they are our own.
We know that fascism came to be adopted slowly and insidiously at a time when certain conditions were in place - the general discontent and frustration of ordinary people, the scapegoating of others, pride aka nationalism, individualism and an expectation that it is everyone for themselves.
It perhaps starts with the youngest members of our society when schools teach that education is to be endured so that everyone can be productive and get jobs because of the very important thing called OUR ECONOMY. That everyone has to be good and do what’s right and expected. When did we all agree that education for the sake of learning, for joyful discovery and for its own sake wasn't the point?
I hope we continue to see many challenges (through political discourse, through the arts and good teachers) to the idea that children are vessels to be topped up with information as opposed to creative individuals needing to explore and learn for the sake of their intellectual, emotional, spiritual and creative development. That children have the right to be free thinking rounded, whole human beings. The danger with that is of course, more questions, more openness and the pursuit of fairer ideals.
The implied questions in the show STATIk are presented though comedy, it is the trials and tribulation of 3 trying to get on, their undoing is seen as a series of ‘gags’; the audience invests in likeable characters because we poke fun at their self importance and their ridiculousness.
Posted: 9 July 2015