Silent Witnesses: Using theatre to combat crime

This week the Silent Witnesses project, an 18 month long collaboration between Theatre Centre and Birkbeck, University of London, working with Year Five pupils across ten inner-city primary schools from Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester, will visit primary schools in Birmingham.


Silent Witnesses - Ed Harris and Dr Natsha Kirkham

Silent Witnesses – Ed Harris and Dr Natsha Kirkham

The project, the subject of a documentary being produced by Actorshop Productions, is a partnership between Theatre Centre and senior developmental psychologists Dr Edward Barker and Dr Natasha Kirkham from Birkbeck.

Silent Witnesses aims to help children deal with violence they may have witnessed in their community, on television or in computer games. The project also seeks to raise awareness among parents and teachers of the role they can play in improving children’s safety and wellbeing. It will culminate with a tour of a new play by Ed Harris in spring 2014, commissioned and produced by Theatre Centre.

The project comprises three stages:

Stage One

Ten Year Five classes from five cities will participate in a two day residential programme run by playwright Ed Harris and developmental psychologist, Dr Natasha Kirkham. These involve creative writing workshops and group discussion.

Stage Two

Ed Harris will draw upon the material created in the workshops and the conversations held in schools to create a script that will be developed and rehearsed by Theatre Centre.

Stage Three

Theatre Centre will tour the production to targeted primary schools across the UK. (Bookings accepted from June 2013.) Children, teachers and parents of children at participating schools will complete pre-play and post-play questionnaires evaluating their attitudes to violence and their responses to the play.

By the end of the 18 month long project researchers from Birkbeck will have gathered evidence from over 5,000 children, teachers and parents about the role of creative expression in changing responses to, and understanding of, violent behaviour. The collated data, research and resulting documentary will be drawn upon by lead educationalists, academics and parents.

Dr Edward Barker, Developmental Psychologist, Birkbeck, said: “We hope that by including children’s voices in the development of the play we will help to engender an atmosphere where children can talk to adults about their experiences of witnessing violence, and adults are equipped to support children and help them reduce their potential to react aggressively themselves.”

Emma Penzer, Headteacher, Mandeville Primary School, Hackney, said: “This project will be of great benefit to the children and staff at Mandeville Primary School. Gilpin Square and other neighbouring areas experience a high level of crime. Many children have witnessed shootings, knife crimes and criminal damage, amongst other crimes. Very rarely do they talk about them, particularly to school staff.”

Schools participating in the workshops at Stage One are:

  • Barford Primary School, Ladywood, Birmingham
  • Nelson Primary School, Ladywood, Birmingham