WiLd! - the emotional new play on ADHD goes on tour


WiLd! - Credit: Archant

Tutti Frutti are a theatre company who specialise in performing for children and young people touring their shows both nationally and internationally. Robe Gemmell caught up with director Wendy Harris about their next show which is a first for the company.

Wendy Harris, who has been involved with the Tutti Frutti for over ten years, gives me a little background to the group. “Our shows range from fairy tales and children’s stories, but for the first time we have commissioned a writer to come up with a new piece of work, with the theme of the piece to still be directed at children.” The writer that the company chose to work with was award winning children’s writer, Evan Placey. “We wanted someone who was able to really understand children and to be able to get into the shoes of the character. Evan fit the bill perfectly. He is an award winning writer who is really able to capture the voice of the children.”

From the collaboration came the play ‘WiLd!’ a story of a child with a difference as Wendy picks up. “The story is of a ten-year-old boy called Billy who is dealing with the life of a broken family after his father has left. Billy struggles at school and his brother blames him for their father leaving, so Billy takes it upon himself to fill the void that has been left which is bee keeping, a hobby that his father used to enjoy. The bees become one of the main focal points of the play.” It is not just the trivialities of his life he has to contend with, but the condition which he suffers from which is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) Wendy continues: “We didn’t want the story to be a documentary, but more of a human story that is funny and will engage the children. We want the story to take the audience on an emotional journey. We want the children to like Billy and celebrate Billy for who he is. We feel for him and see that he is vulnerable and is misunderstood, just like the bees in the story. People see bees as wild and dangerous, but they serve a purpose as they populate the flowers and they are critical in natures food chain. We see the world from Billy’s point of view with the knowledge that we can all be different; we can all accommodate each other if we understand each other.”

The play consists of one actor and one musician on stage. The role of Billy is being played by actor Rhys Warrington. “We knew from the audition that Rhys was just perfect for the role of Billy. He really got the character straight away. He is just brilliant and the kids will love him.” The backdrop of the story is played against a score by Molly Lopresti who performs percussion pieces throughout the story on a wide range of instruments including a vibraphone. Molly is a graduate from the Guild Hall School of Music and was also shortlisted for Young Musician of the Year. “It is wonderful to have the physicality of the percussion. There is a lot of movement in the performance, unless he’s with the bees as that’s when he is at his calmest. There are lots of elements that are appealing.”

Although the majority of the work that Tutti Frutti perform are adaptations from fairy tales or children’s stories, it was a play performed in 2014 that encouraged them to explore other avenues, but still keeping the appeal to children. Wendy explains: “We did a play called ‘Monday’s Child’ which was a piece that we researched with scientists at Sussex university. It was a play about memory and came from an interest in Alzheimer’s which my mother-in-law has and focuses on the relationship she has with her grandchildren. It was listed in the Guardian as one of the best pieces to see in 2014 and also listed in the top ten shows to see and it was the only play in the list for children.”

The play also holds strong educational purposes which Wendy, as a mother herself, is keen to voice and encourage schools from all over the country to book and see. “Behavioural agendas in school are massive. The more teachers that are aware of this the better and that goes for children as well. We want schools to be more informed and aware – the better the education can be then the better the learning can be. We are really keen to get lead schools to book to see the show. We want to help children of all ages to understand, to help them to become curious about the world they live in and to get them to ask the right questions. There have been certain barriers with some teachers as they feel shows about ADHD have nothing to do with school, but I know that there could be a whole terms worth of work out of it. It’s not just about ADHD, it’s about emotional literacy, it’s about bees and nature and how we engage with the world. There are so many different things to learn.” Such is the focus on schools that the company are offering free resources at every show and online for people who want to learn and understand more. This resource can be useful guides for any school wishing to learn and teach more about the subject.

Putting on a play like this can be difficult with challenges both practically and financially. Fortunately, Wendy knows she has a good team around her. “When you have a great set of people working hard then my role becomes a lot easier! It’s my responsibility to ensure that everyone is doing their job.” The financial support comes from the Wellcome Trust, as Wendy explains. “The Wellcome Trust has funded the play due to the bio medical element. They are very interested in exploring how bio medical science and art can come together if it is raising awareness of these issues. The support from them has been fantastic.”

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Wendy’s aim for the play is for people to be entertained. “We want to make the story meaningful to children and not heavy in content or fact. It has been great fun to work on and I really hope the audiences enjoy the show as much as we have making it.”

‘WiLd!’ opens on April 30th before embarking on a tour of the country. The full list of dates can be found below. If you are a school interested in seeing the show or would like further information, you can contact Tutti Frutti via their website – www.tutti-frutti.org.uk