Leaving: New play by Paddy Campbell gives voice to the stories of care experienced young people
Paddy Campbell spent eight years working as a Key Worker in residential Children’s Homes before his first full-length play, Wet House, premiered in September 2013. In his new play Leaving, which debuts at Newcastle’s Northern Stage on Thursday 23rd February, Paddy returns to his days supporting young people in the care system.
On the day before final dress-rehearsals, I caught up with Paddy Campbell to discuss Leaving and his hopes that it will shine a light on the lives of young people leaving care and the issues they face.
Paddy, what was your inspiration for writing Leaving?
I’ve been writing full time for two years now but, before this, I spent eight years working as a Key Worker in a children’s home in Newcastle. When I was still working there I got approached by some researchers from London who were interested in making a TV drama about the lives of your people who’d experienced care. Alongside Amy (Amy Golding, the director of Leaving) we introduced the researchers to some young people I’d worked with. It was as I sat there listening to people’s stories that I thought to myself ‘why make this up?’ the truth is enough. This young woman was so good at telling her own story that to fictionalise it was worthless.
How did you got about approaching people to share their stories with you?
Most of the people we started talking to were young people I’d known from when I was their Key Worker. We then approached Local Authorities and ran drama workshops where people were invited to share their stories with us. We also spoke to Social Workers, managers and the MP Sharon Hodgson who was Shadow Minister for Children at the time.
What made you decide to choose verbatim theatre and base the play on the exact words of the people you interviewed?
The director Amy had always wanted to try verbatim theatre and our research with young people found that this was the best way of sharing the real-life stories of those we were working with. At first, we had the words put into scripts but, in rehearsals, we found that the actors weren’t getting across the matter of fact way in which people had shared their lives with us. The tendency for actors was to go down the ‘woe is me’ or ‘self-pity’ routes when recounting what had happened to young people, but this wasn’t how the young people themselves had told their own stories.
Amy did some research and we settled on the recorded delivery technique. This sees all our actors wearing hidden earpieces and hearing the young people’s recorded stories as they are out there on stage. That way they are all mirroring back to the audience the exact words of the young people, in the same delivery they used.
What’s been the feedback from the young people whose stories you’re telling?
We’ve had some of them come along to rehearsals and see themselves played back on stage. Everyone we’ve worked with has been very excited about the play and happy to have their stories out there. We’re having the final dress rehearsals tomorrow and have invited everyone along to see it.
What have you learned along the way?
Where do you even start? One of the main things has been the realisation that when you work in this world for a while you can see so much hardship that you become used to it. But, hearing the stories of young people reflected back to you years down the line, you realise just how much of an impact you can make in people’s lives as a worker. Talking to Social Workers has also shown me how stretched they are with high caseloads, but how they still work hard to bring about positive changes for young people in care.
How important is it to get the voices of care experienced people out there?
Their voices are often not heard and, when putting this play together, young people often described to me how they felt there was a very negative stereotype about having been in care. It’s important to try to challenge those stereotypes. I hope that Leaving can show that there is no reason to vilify young people for childhood issues that they had no control over.
What will people take away from seeing the play?
I hope that they’ll get an insight into young people who’ve lived through massive changes in their lives. I think that the audience will understand that it’s not all doom and gloom, that resilience and humour shines through in these young people. It will make you think but make you laugh as well.
Leaving by Paddy Campbell will be performed at the following venues:
Northern Stage, Newcastle, from Thursday 23rd February to Saturday 4th March.
The Egg Theatre, Bath, on Monday 13th March.
The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, from Wednesday 15th March to Saturday 19th March.