Performing the Play at Queensbridge School

'Over the Top' toured from October until the end of December. One of the bookings in October 2016 was at Queensbridge School a specialist college in the visual and performing arts. The performance of 'Over The Top' and the interwoven workshop activities became the basis for an extended project with young volunteers from years 7, 8 and 9, with Heritage Lottery funding enabling Big Brum to meet with the young people on a weekly basis following the performance of the play. Richard Holmes, Big Brum's Head of Theatre in Education, extended the story of the young VAD Nurse Kitty O'Connell as she returns from a field hospital at the Battle of the Somme to work with convalescing soldiers at Highbury Hall, the historic home of the Chamberlain family built for Joseph Chamberlain in 1878.  The stately home was converted into a VAD hospital from 1915 to 1918 and the Big Brum actors worked together to prepare sessions for the young people based on Kitty's life there. One of the recurring themes was that of Kitty's letters, written to no one in particular and then destroyed or hidden away within the house. As we revealed the letters to the young people, they began to understand Kitty's journey and her thoughts, feelings and wishes for the future. In this way Big Brum blur the boundaries of historical facts and the story of the play, in order that children and young people can be engaged both intellectually and emotionally.

The play can be viewed in two parts here:

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

'Over The Top' written by Chris Cooper and directed by Richard Holmes. Set Design by Richard Holmes and Liz Vass. Actors Roseanna Baggott, Richard Holmes & Siobhan Twomey. Photograph by Matt Hinks. Copyright Big Brum TiE

To give some idea of the impact of 'Over the Top', here are some comments from teachers who booked the play and TiE programme for their pupils/students.

I have rarely seen the children so engaged, for them to be so up close and personal with the actors and the action was brilliant, and all in the safe environment of their own school. They felt privileged that the show was only for them and were thoughtful and respectful in their reflections and questions." 

Katy O’Hara, UK S2 Manager and Year 6 teacher, Windmill Primary School, Telford.

The children benefited hugely from the session from the way they experienced the war through the characters you created, realised how people lost their youth and how it damaged them.”
Colleen Johnson, Year 6 Class Teacher, Fairway Primary Academy, Kings Norton, Birmingham
We found the excellent performance poignant and very moving...lots of themes and key issues were explored e.g. the role of women, shell shock, slaughter...lots of the students said 'it really made me think' - in relation to the horrors of life in the trenches... the actors were excellent ”
Mrs Davies, Head of History at Newport Girls High School, Shropshire
I think it showed clear cross curricular links between history and drama and how the arts can be used as a vehicle to learn in an enjoyable environment. The humanities plan to use it for their GCSE history course work...the way the project was delivered was interesting and informative...”
Mrs Catherine Allen-Smith, Head of Performing Arts, School Holte School, Lozells, Birmingham  
'Over The Top' at Fairway Primary Academy with Y6 pupils. Actor is Conor Nolan as 'Jimmy'. Photograph by Fairway.

Matt Hinks