September 20, 2022

History Changes Lives – In the Theatre and Out

Can a performance change your life?

I once created a play about the demise of the London Docks. At the time I was teaching near the Royal Docks and many of the families who I taught were connected to it in some way. London was once a vital and massive seaport with 17 miles of docklands. But over the years the docks declined, and containerisation spelt the end.

I wanted to pay homage to these events and see it through the eyes of someone born locally in the middle of the second world war. I interviewed many people who worked on the docks, but I also worked with my pupils and got them to ask questions of their parents. A whole section of the play became about the story of immigrants from the Caribbean who settled in the area. It was a true community play and took on a life of its own. At its heart was the changing life of a family but also from time to time the action was stopped by the closing of yet another dock. For each one of these, there was a wreath, and we announced the name of each dock that closed. Eventually, the scaffolding set was covered in wreaths.

The play was a big success at the school – partly I think because people recognised their own history in the story. Then great excitement came one morning when I was contacted by an organisation that represented local people who had worked on the docks. They arranged for the play to have a couple of performances in a huge warehouse beside the Royal Docks; it even had a crane outside. This warehouse was so big that you couldn’t see the other end of it! At the time it was said to be the largest free-standing building in Europe. Excitement indeed but I needed to scale things up a bit. I introduced real cars into the play and made the distances bigger. Again, it was a great success and more local people enjoyed the story.

Unknown to me a professor from Cambridge University attended the event and asked to see me. He explained that he enjoyed the performance of the central character so much that he wanted to offer him a place at the university. This was 1985 and he wanted to widen the background of his students – a man ahead of his time. So when people say to me theatre won’t change lives, I’d say it can (even though the boy in question eventually decided it wasn’t for him).

It’s all office blocks and apartments now and that warehouse was swallowed up by City Airport but if you get the chance to visit, the Museum of London Docklands tells the story in a wonderful hands-on way.

  • Featured image: Chatfield and Coleman; Henry Moses, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Theatretrain, a nationwide provider of weekend theatre schools for young people aged 4-18, specialises in weekly classes in acting, singing, and dancing. An emphasis is placed on learning valuable life skills such as confidence, empathy, courage, and resilience. If you know a child who loves to dance, act and sing or could do with a little confidence boost why not visit to find out what our performing arts classes can offer your child at one of our 80 locations across the UK.

Related Articles

Nurturing Creative Sparks: Insights for Your Child’s Growth

Ever wondered how embracing diverse passions could transform your child’s future? Let me share a story about Viola Davis, once a curious whirlwind exploring acting, dance, and music. Her journey wasn’t just about finding a passion; it sculpted her confidence, poise, and profound self-understanding. Ready to unlock your child's potential through the magic of performing arts?
Read more >

Celebrating Small Wins: The Key to Thriving, On stage and Off

Ever pondered life's lessons through a simple seed? Join a journey with retired botanist Professor Harold, teaching kids in his vibrant garden. From planting a seed to weathering storms, the garden mirrors life's small victories. Just as nurturing a garden transforms, nurturing young talents at Theatretrain celebrates every sprouting leaf and budding flower. Explore the transformative power at Theatretrain and unlock your child's artistic potential!
Read more >
Rethink silence! Explore the link between ambient noise and productivity for enhanced focus. Theatretrain: where performing arts unlock creativity and potential.

Mozart’s Secret: How Noise May Boost Your Child’s Focus!

Ever questioned the role of silence in enhancing your child's focus? Journey to 18th-century Vienna, where Mozart, amidst city clamour, composed masterpieces. Explore the surprising link between ambient noise and productivity, challenging the silence myth in learning environments. Discover a harmonious blend of sound and concentration in this intriguing narrative.
Read more >
Discover the power of drama classes in fostering empathy. Explore Theatretrain for transformative performing arts experiences that unlock creative potential

Behind the Curtain: Theatre’s Ripple Effect

Ever wondered how a drama class transforms teens into super-empathetic individuals? Step into a world where acting isn't just lines but a journey into empathy. Follow Sarah's tale, from a shy book lover to an empathetic powerhouse, unveiling the surprising catalyst behind this metamorphosis—structured improvisation in drama classes.
Read more >