Can drama curb knife crime?

Divian Ladwa and Anna Maria Nabirye in Mad Blud. Photo: Jane Hobson and design by Miriam Nabarro

In a week when the Metropolitan police launch another murder enquiry into the death of a 15 year old schoolboy from stabbing and an Old Bailey jury returns verdicts on six youths for the knife killing of Sofyen Belamouadden at Victoria tube station, also only 15 years old, Theatre Royal Stratford East presents a drama addressing the problem of knife crime.

The show, called “Mad Blud”, was created for the first time in 2008 but has since been updated and reworked. It has just toured Newham schools and is on at the theatre in Stratford until May 28. 

Playwright and director of “Mad Blud” Philip Osment explained to Eastlondonlines how his project originated. The idea was to tell the authentic stories behind the headlines and describe the impact of youth violence on the community. 

Cary Crankson and Jonanne Sandi in Mad Blud. Photo: Jane Hobson and Design by Miriam Nabarro.

Philip Osment recorded many interviews with east Londoners who had been affected, in one way or another, by knife crime: teenagers, families, neighbours, teachers, police, and a perpetrator. He then edited these testimonies and asked the actors to listen to the recordings on stage over earphones and deliver them a moment later. 

The purpose of this unusual technique is to preserve the spontaneity of live speech and the authenticity of the real experiences that are being told. It requires from the actors the ability to listen and act at the same time. Such a technique has already been used by other practitioners in the UK. 

The audience who listen to the real stories discover the extent to which knife crime is affecting people, including very young kids, and how living with this violence has become a norm in their life, many children not being able to go to certain areas for safety reasons, says Philip Osment. 

Dwayne Hutchinson in Mad Blud. Photo: Jane Hobson and Design by Miriam Nabarro.

After the show was presented to them at school, pupils answered a questionnaire and it turned out that many of them wouldn’t talk to adults about this problem and their fears. 

“It’s something they feel they have got to live with and deal with”, says Philip. 

According to him, a major problem in youth violence is the fact that the police often assume that the person who is being stabbed and his friends have a connexion with gangs. 

It is not always the case, but such suspicions often generate further grief and problems for the families. In the press, the victim is often presented as a perfect, almost beatified, figure: 

Knife crime in London rose by 8% from January to December 2010, according to figures from the Metropolitan police. In 2008 when the play was first devised it was described as the biggest threat facing the capital after terrorism. Despite high profile initiatives launched in recent years to tackle knife crime and confront its causes, many of the projects now face closure due to spending cuts. 
The power of theatre that reaches out to young people by researching their culture with respect and understanding and speaking in their language remains a key method of addressing knife violence that has claimed all too many young lives in the East London Lines boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham and Croydon.

One Response

  1. Philip Osment May 21, 2011

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