Author Archive

January 13th, 2012

Why should we fund the arts?

This is our 25th year delivering work across Birmingham and the West Midlands.

From a modest start in Balsall Heath at St Paul’s Community Trust, Language Alive! was born. Steve Ball was appointed as a clown to promote language development across 12 schools. Over the next few years the work expanded to include Northfield, Saltley, Nechells and Ladywood with a range of tours and site-specific projects, and the team grew with Local Education Authority-funded teacher/actors.

The 90s gave rise to sister company Catalyst to tap into huge demand for health work. Fortunate timing, because the withdrawal of LEA funding stripped Language Alive! of most of its staff, and saw the company leave St Paul’s, struggling to survive.

But survive it did, and thanks to an Arts Council Lottery Award moved to its present premises above Percy Shurmer Primary School in Highgate in 2000. The Play House was born. The company went from strength to strength, being funded to create a virtual ‘Healthy Living Centre’, delivering a range of innovative and developmental projects through Creative Partnerships, and moving out of the classroom with Extended Schools projects.

But all these initiatives have come to an end. Looking back it says a lot about the cyclical nature of the world we work in. Once again funding is being withdrawn and The Play House, like many other charities across the country, is once again struggling.

But should we rely on funding? What is the value of the arts? Here’s a thought-provoking article from David Edgar about the subject. Make up your own minds.

September 2nd, 2011

No Kidding at ArtsFest!

The Play House will be presenting ‘No Kidding’ at ArtsFest on Sunday 11th September at 2pm in Birmingham Conservatoire’s  Recital Hall

‘No Kidding’ is a fun and slapstick participatory programme designed to improve the quality of children’s relationships with each other, and it’s one of our Language Alive! theatre-in-education tours for 2011-2012. Designed for 5-7 year olds it’s one of our most requested programmes, and an excerpt is presented free at ArtsFest, performed by Malcolm Jennings and Simon Turner.

‘No Kidding’ explores notions of friendship, co-operation and bullying through the eyes of a pair of ‘overgrown children’, Bally and Billy. In the best traditions of clowning, Bally and Billy struggle to maintain their friendship at work and play. Amidst all the fun there is a serious lesson to be learnt when Billy downs tools and the pupils must take the lead in resolving the conflict between the two larger-thanlife characters. Will the pupils be able to help Bally see the error of her ways and get her to apologise to Billy? Will the two make friends and get to perform their big finale?

Visit its website to find out more…

June 14th, 2011

25 years of bringing the curriculum to life

September sees Language Alive!‘s 25th year of bringing the curriculum to life across Birmingham and the West Midlands.

We’ve just released next year’s programmes which are available to book. Apologies for the delay – funding, as you’d appreciate, has been a bit scarce, but we’ve been able to raise enough to keep school contributions the same as last year.

We’ve also been able to attract funding for some exciting new work. The Arts Council has supported two linked tours this year – Peep! and Mosaic (click to find out more information). Both will be distinct programmes, but both will explore ways of creating theatre that is more accessible to a wider range of children. Peep! is available to Nursery, Reception and Year 1, and Mosaic for Years 2 & 3.

Another exciting project will be taking place at the evocative Moseley Road Baths. Pool of Memories will use the stories collected from the local community to explore the history of this fascinating building, and is part of a wider Heritage Lottery-funded project being run by the Friends of Moseley  Road Baths – you can find out about that project at

Paper Chase is a project that might seem familiar to some schools, but we’ve submitted a bid to the Clore Poetry and Literature Awards to build on previous work to make best use of enhanced digital audio technology and interactive resources. The aim is to offer greater support for the teaching of literacy, andprovide children with a dramatic impetus to create their own original poetry.

Some of our most popular tours are also making a return, such as our Key Stage 1 bullying and relationships programme No Kidding, and our Early Years numeracy piece Little Red Hen. There’s a strong selection of historical work too, with 7-11 year olds taken back to Tudor Times to explore the story of Anne Boleyn and Where there’s smoke… transporting them to the Great Fire of London. For Years 5 & 6 Saving Hope will explore the human stories around the outbreak of the plague.

You can find out more about all these programme by clicking the links above, or by downloading the brochure from the Language Alive! page, where you can also find the booking forms. Please get in touch if you’d like any more information.

December 2nd, 2010

Changing the paradigm

Sir Ken Robinson PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources. In 1998, he led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK Government. ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’ (The Robinson Report) was published to wide acclaim in 1999.

This fascinating short film outlines his perspective of education today, his vision, and what he sees as some potential ways forward.

November 18th, 2010

Carl Chinn meets The Play House!

Tune in to Carl Chinn’s radio programme on BBC Radio WM this Sunday!

From midday you’ll hear Juliet and Malcolm talk about some of the company’s heritage-based projects, from a storytelling project based on the life of the Ladypool Road to participatory theatre-in-education at the Museum Collection Centre in Birmingham.

October 21st, 2010

Engaging schools

Deborah has been work with our colleagues over at Tide~ to look at learning outside of the classroom. 

She has been looking back on the work that they’ve been doing, and this has just been published on the Tide~ website. You can read her reflections here, along with articles from other members of the group.

September 10th, 2010

Socially enterprising

The Play House has become the first theatre company outside of London, and only the third in the country, to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark.

The Mark is a new countrywide scheme offering an instantly recognisable logo that represents enterprises working for social and environmental aims, trading to benefit people and the planet.

The Play House – or Language Alive! back then – started almost 25 years ago with Steve Ball promoting language development as part of St Paul’s Community Project. It became a company and a charity in 1993 with the withdrawel of local education authority funding. It’s been reliant on project funding, commissions and trade ever since, with all ‘profits’ from our work ploughed back into developing new educational projects aimed at children and young people.

You can find out more about the Mark and other organsations that have qualified at

July 27th, 2010

From our foreign correspondents…

Whilst we sit here in Brum trying to predict the vagaries of the British summer, some of our colleagues are half-way around the world in Belem, Brazil, for IDEA 2010: the International Drama/Theatre and Education Association World Congress.

The IDEA Congress takes place every three years, and The Play House has been represented at all of them in recent years. Last time in Hong Kong we were successful in an Arts Council bid to mount a tour there and send the whole team out for the Congress itself.

This time representatives from 3 applied theatre companies – Deborah Hull, our Artistic & Educational Director, and Artistic Directors Andy Watson from Geese and Johnny O’Hanlon from HamFisted! – came together to participate.

Contact with the team has been a bit sporadic, but Johnny sent his impressions of Belem itself

What can be said of Belem – aside from the heat ‘cos it’s hot, damn hot…

Belem- once a rich city based on gold and rubber, but now a city of contrasts – beautiful buildings butt up against rotting cement shells of buildings – richer middle class shopping malls the like of which you get the world over next to run down markets -and all the while the amazon river flows its way to the sea…

The smells of the city are pungent and human – and indeed the local population are helpful and friendly – though the crime rate is extremely high – pickpockets and muggings at gunpoint have been reported by people attending this conference…

The team don’t seem to be particularly impressed with the organisation of the conference though, with Deborah reporting it was

poorly organised and [there was] a distinct lack of rigour to much of the conference content

…a view echoed by Johnny. So a bit of a mixed bag, a real shame given that Hong Kong proved a fantastic experience for the company. Then we reported…

IDEA provided a fantastic opportunity for the whole company to take the time to both share and celebrate the considerable achievements of the company as well as to be inspired to continue to develop our collective practice into several new and exciting areas.

Part of the benefit of this type of event is meeting new people, engaging with different companies, and becoming more aware of international developments. And as well as attending Deborah has also presented a paper

 … things [have] been pretty full on during the conference… managed to have several interesting conversations/contacts and the paper went really well. 

The contradictory nature of the event is summed up well by Andy…

Ilana, a Brazilian theatre practitioner currently working in London and working as an interpreter at the IDEA Conference, succinctly summed my experience of the 10 day congress – “Brazil is a country of massive contradictions.” This goes some way to explaining my astonishment at the final, closing celebratory dinner, in which the Bahia Military Police performed the most audacious and spectacular drumming and dance performance I have ever witnessed. Serving police officers singing and dancing a range of classic Portugese songs, African drumming, Afro Brazilian caporera demonstrations, and finally encouraging the whole audience to join them in an extended and energetic Carimbo dance. If this had been presented by professional theatre and dance practitioners it would have been spectacular. The fact that it was presented by serving police officers, and according to Ilana, officers serving in a police force which is notoriously corrupt and alledgedly brutal made the whole experience that much stranger.
It served as a good conclusion to a congress that has been incredibly contradictory: in equal parts frustrating and rewarding; confusing and inspiring.

A bit closer to home they’ll be legacy too, as The Play House, Geese and HamFisted! will continue to meet, forming a mini Applied Theatre network. Longer term we hope this will grow and extend networking opportunities provided by the mini-network to include other applied theatre companies based in the West Midlands.

June 14th, 2010

Next year’s primary tours now available!

We’ve now planned all the Foundation and Primary tours for the next academic year, including some exciting new projects and the return of some old favourites.

Climb aboard!

For Early Years Just imagine… is an innovative new Early Years programme that is being developed through a partnership between The Play House and Birmingham Rep.  A series of story-making sessions are currently being conducted in Early Years settings , and the ideas generated by children in these sessions will be used to create a unique child-led story, inviting children to step into the world of the story and to imagine, play and create for themselves. Climb Aboard sees the return of Jim and his grandma Fernanda, who find the Jamaica Case full of precious things from Fernanda’s life as a girl in Jamaica. Jim and the children explore the objects as they are removed from the case and are taken on a journey back to her childhood…

Into the Garden, inspired by Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant

Key stage 1 has two popular programmes make stheir return. Fit for a King transports infants to the court of Prince Yannis, one of the unhealthiest, laziest and most unhygienic princes ever. Recruited by Yannis’ long-suffering personal chef, Cookie, the pupils must transform his lifestyle before the prince will be allowed to be crowned King Yannis. And using Oscar Wilde’s original story of The Selfish Giant as its inspiration and integrating shadow play, puppetry and storytelling, Into the Garden follows what happens when a group of children decide to ignore the ‘Keep Out’ signs the Giant has put up around his garden and show him what he’s been missing…

Thanks to the Arts Council and Birmingham City Council there are a few new programmes for Key Stage 2. Spinning a Yarn is a new and exciting programme for Years 3 & 4 that tells the story of Hans Christian Anderson’s Emperor’s New Clothes. Through an exciting blend of storytelling, participation and the hands-on exploration of textile techniques, participants explore human rights and global citizenship. Inspired by the traditional story of Jack and the Beanstalk, Bag of Beans is a new and innovative numeracy and storytelling programme for Years 3 & 4 .  The trials that Jack encounters in this tale become a frame for the children’s participation, and provide a  series of challenges and tasks which involve the children applying the principals of mathematics and logic.

All Good Things, our site-specific programme taking place at BMAG's amazing Collection Centre

Following on from our extremely well-received tour of Tapestry for 13-18s, On the Edge is an exciting new participatory performance for 9 – 11 year olds which explores the implications and consequences of extremism. Younger children have less direct experience of extremism and their ideas, opinions and awareness around this issue are generally less well formed. On the Edge will draw on stories such as William Tell, Robin Hood and The Gunpowder Plot to create an original story through which children will explore questions such as: Do the ends justify the means, who do you believe and is there ever a case for taking the law into your own hands?


We’re able to revisit BMAG’s amazing Collection Centre in the Spring with the return of All Good Things… The Collection Centre is a treasure trove of history and science artifacts, and we creat an exciting drama which will take children on a unique journey back in time as characters from Birmingham’s industrial and scientific past come back to tell their stories and plead their case. And rounding of our Key Stage 2 programmes will be another history tour. Stargazing transports children to a dusty loft in Florence during 1633 to wait for the great scientist and astronomer Galileo to arrive and address them.  As they wait they meet Andrea, the child of Galileo’s housekeeper, and together begin to practically explore Galileo’s theories  using the models and notes that the great man has left lying around.  Their experimentation is interrupted when they learn that Galileo has been arrested as a heretic…

You can find full details of all our tours next year if you go to

May 26th, 2010

Nearly there!

Welcome to the new website. Pardon our appearance whilst we tidy up!

We’re not quite finished yet. There’s still a few bits that don’t work quite how we want them to, and other bits we still need to add (come back next term and hopefully we’ll have some activities for the Interactive WhiteBoard too). Hopefully when we’re done we’ll have a truly interactive resource to support learning, and with fun activities for young people too.

It’s designed to grow though. Each new project will have it’s own mini-site, and we need your help too. You’ll be able to comment on activities, and help us develop by suggesting your own activites to add ours. It’s not quite working yet, but you’ll also be able to embed our activities on your own sites too.

In the mean time have a look at our current tour sites.

Our current Language Alive! tours:

  • Little Red Hen is our  Early Years programme, with lots of numeracy ideas and activities.
  • Where there’s smoke… explores the Great Fire of London with 5-7 year olds, with some great interactive activites
  • No Kidding looks at bullying with 5-7 year olds (sorry, we’ve not had time to develop a full website, but there’s a resource pack to download with lots of useful ideas)

 Also touring:

  • Tapestry is our successful tour for 13-18 year olds exploring the implications and consequences of extremism. (At present there’s a link to a temporary website, but this will be integrated into our new site soon.)

Please let us kow what you think think, either through the comment links or the contact page. Thanks!