Weekly sessions begin at Queensbridge School

'Over The Top'. Actors Roseanna Baggott as 'the Sister', Siobhan Twomey as 'Kitty'. Photograph by Matt Hinks.
The play was performed to the young people interwoven with dialogue and activities that explored the characters and themes of the play. Young people were asked what they would fight or die for, what was duty and to who or what was duty owed? The characters of Kitty and Jimmy were explored, through their youthful friendship in Ireland to their parting in France. The young people were asked to write a final letter, either from Kitty to Jimmy or Jimmy to Kitty. They then read out the letters and explained what was written. In this way Big Brum create a safe space where young people can meet the story and meet themselves through their imagination and creativity.

Big Brum staff attended an event at Highbury Hall on 13th September, led by the People's Heritage Co-operative, which launched their learning resource, 'Untold Stories, Birmingham's wounded from WW1', which told the stories of the many hospitals in and around Birmingham, and the soldiers that survived the war, albeit with life changing injuries such as loss of limbs, blindness and mental health issues.

Second session at Queensbridge with the young people. Conor, Rosie and Siobhan create a new scene. Photo by Matt Hinks
For the second session at Queensbridge, the young volunteers were gathered in the drama studio and Richard began by talking about the story at the heart of 'Over The Top' , namely that of Kitty's journey from an estate in Dublin to the Battle of the Somme, and her relationship with Jimmy. Richard asks Rosie, Siobhan and Conor to perform the final scene of the play, where Kitty meets Bob at the railway station in France. Richard extends the story and tells the young people that Bob arrived at the Somme, and within fifteen minutes of stepping into no man's land he was dead, mowed down by German machine guns, and later buried where he fell. Richard then turns to Kitty, leaving France with a single suitcase en route to a nursing role in Birmingham.  The young people are asked what she may have packed in the suitcase. The responses are immediate and enthusiastic, she would have kept the letter with the green ribbon that Jimmy has sent to her, she would have saved Jimmy's bandages, she would need an apple from the orchard outside the hospital, she might have kept her scrubbing brush after cleaning off the blood, she may have an extra pair of shoes because of the mud, toothpaste for her smile, clean clothes that didn't smell of blood. Due to some problems scheduling the sessions, it had been three weeks since the young people had seen the play, but they showed a remarkable ability to recall items of significance from the play, and were keen to tell the actors why the items were so important to the characters. The young people were asked what memories Kitty would be taking away with her, and this gave them further opportunities to recall and re-create important moments from the play, certain words, images, actions and sounds that the young people were keen to enact and that they said would be with Kitty forever as memories both good and bad.

In smaller groups the young people created frozen pictures of the scenes in the hospital, and Kitty with Jimmy in Ireland. They are asked to explain the pictures and how the characters are feeling in the various moments. It was fascinating to see the moments chosen, it might be expected that the scenes would be those most obviously dramatic, such as the battle scenes and the scene where a patient attacks the Sister. In fact there were a variety of scenes of much gentler moments, such as Kitty quietly sobbing whilst cleaning the hospital floor, Jimmy offering an apple to Kitty in Ireland, and Kitty and Sister making the beds.    
Matt Hinks