Theatre company tackles the issue of ADHD

A Yorkshire theatre company is telling the story of ADHD in a new play for children. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad finds out more.

Artistic director of Leeds’ theatre company tutti frutti knows that their latest production WILd! is a departure from their normal production for three to seven year olds. More used to turning fairytales into stage productions that capture the imaginations of young children, the company’s latest production is aiming for an older audience.

“It’s the first time we’ve created a show for children who are eight-years-old and above,” says Harris. “It’s the first time we’ve worked like this, with researchers and with a playwright to create an entirely new story. It’s all incredibly exciting.”

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The play tackles the issue of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Harris says that we have a far greater understanding of conditions such as Aspergers and autism than we do of ADHD.

“One in 20 children in the UK are diagnosed with the condition, that’s one child in every classroom,” says Harris. “A lot of people still consider it simply bad behaviour, but the research we have done in making this play demonstrates that it is absolutely a genetic condition. The people we’ve been working with at Nottingham University are the experts. They explained how it is a brain condition that is passed down in families. The conditions a child is raised in also have an impact, but this is something that children are sometimes simply predisposed to.”

As an National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) Tutti Frutti receives core funding from the Arts Council. Harris believes that gives the company a responsibility to make work like this, tackling issues that affect the lives of the young people who see their work.

Since 2011 tutti frutti has been based in Harehills, Leeds, and currently performs more than 250 shows a year to 25,000 children.

Securing funding for WILd! via the Wellcome Trust, a global charity dedicated to improving health through science, research and engagement in society, is a major step for tutti frutti.

“It’s given us the luxury of being able to commission a playwright to create a new script for us, has allowed us to employ a musician to compose a score and perform it live on stage during the production, it’s a big deal,” says Harris.

“Sometimes we have to be risk averse and programme shows that we know will sell easily. The funding means we can do something that is more bold, more challenging.”

Ultimately, it is also a piece of work that could make a real difference. “When children are in the theatre and a story is happening in front of them, there in the room, there is a level of engagement that simply doesn’t happen when they are watching a story on their iPad or on a TV screen,” says Harris.

“There is also something about live music that really connects with our young audiences. You can actually see them properly engaging with the music when it is being made there in front of them on the stage, rather than something that is being played via an electronic device.”

WILd! is at the Carriageworks in Leeds next week (April 30) before touring nationally and being performed as part of the Yorkshire Festiva

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