Treading the boards in the fight against knife crime

Crime of the Century. Photo: Chickenshed theatre

Shaquille Smith was stabbed to death in an unprovoked knife attack when caught between two rival gangs in Hackney three years ago. He was 14.

Last week his friends saw a play: ‘Crime of the Century’, performed by Chickenshed Theatre Co. at his school, Sir John Cass Foundation, in Tower Hamlets.

Susan Jameson, a member of Chickenshed, said that the play brings home the message that: “If you go out with a knife you could be the perpetrator or the victim. Knives don’t protect you”.

Earlier in February, Brooke Kinsella, star of EastEnders and sister of knife crime victim, Ben Kinsella, reported on the positive findings of an investigation into the effectiveness of projects aimed at combating knife crime.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary has pledged to devote £8m to projects such as these over the next two years.

Kinsella established a trust in memory of her brother and is now a key anti-violence campaigner. She aims to make education about these crimes as much a part of the curriculum as drug and sexual heath awareness.

Since 2009 (when records began) there has been an 8 per cent increase in the number of crimes involving knives, and Croydon and Lewisham are considered “high priority areas”.

The police and local schools in the area have already started using theatre as a means of raising awareness of knife crime. In November of last year, Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre joined forces with The Metropolitan Police Specialist Firearms Command to launch the theatre project: ‘Choices’.

Plays about knife crime are fast becoming a staple of educational theatre. Last week Redbridge College staged a production of ‘Boy X’ about the murder of a teenager and the consequential cycle of revenge sparked by his death. Students also had the opportunity to take part in discussions and workshops with the actors.

Jordon Barrett, one of the actors involved, spent a year in prison himself following experiences akin to those of the play’s characters. He said: “I want as many people to see it as possible. I know what life is like on the streets and it’s something that needs to change”.

This weekend sees the culmination of ‘Cutting Edge’, a production funded by the Ben Kinsella Trust. The play will be performed by A-Level students on the concourse of Birmingham’s New Street Station, three times each hour.

The success of these projects remains to be seen in the long term, but with the wave of interest in these theatrical projects has come a renewed hope that real change might be possible. As Kinsella herself puts it: “There’s some pretty amazing work going on out there”.

By Sophie Zeldin-O’Neill

Look out for award-winning National Youth Theatre production ‘Talking to Tallman’ touring schools next month.

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