The West End: Teaching Young People To Stand Up Against Prejudice And Accept Themselves
| By Harriet Hards
One boy on the autistic spectrum, one girl with intelligence beyond her years and one girl with green skin. Three characters, three misfits, three amazing stories of self acceptance and defiance against what society believes them to be.
What makes a great character? Is it complexity or relatability? Their personal strength or their relationships?
It’s different for every show but within family theatre I think there’s one trait that matters the most, the ability to teach young people to embrace what makes them unique. It’s no new phenomenon but recently I’ve been noticing that shows such as The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (Gielgud Theatre), Matilda (Cambridge Theatre) and Wicked (Apollo Victoria Theatre) do this exceptionally well.
When I saw each of these shows, I was immediately struck by the courage and determination of the central characters. Christopher, from The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, works hard to pass his maths A level and find out to truth about his neighbour’s dog despite the fact that his brain works in a very different way. Matilda uses her intellect to help out her friend and teacher Miss Honey from an abusive situation and defies her ignorant parents to achieve amazing feats. Elphaba , from Wicked, works hard to get where she wants in her career and she never gives up, even when she is met with prejudice and hostility.
There are sadly many cases of childhood bullying at the moment and many children have an awful time with their self-esteem. The things that make them different become the things that they hate because it’s not “normal”. This can be so damaging, especially at such an early stage in life but I think it can be avoided with the help of some positive depictions of diversity in film, fiction and the theatre. Imagine a young girl or boy who is above average in their academic work at school. Maybe they are picked on by the other students, maybe they are labelled a “nerd” or “geek”. Their parents take them for a special trip to London’s West End to see Matilda, in which they see the title character overcoming those who condemn her and using her intellect to make a real difference. Suddenly being enthusiastic about school isn’t such a character flaw and actually something they can be proud of!
The theatre has real power. It can help teach people to accept themselves and not to judge a book by its cover. Children can learn to not be afraid to defy gravity and create their own path. A West End stage is a platform on which we should place positive role models for young people. Elphaba, to stand against prejudice and racism, Christopher, to further understanding of the autistic spectrum and how to treat those on it with love and respect, and Matilda, to teach that intelligence should be celebrated not criticised.
These are all amazing family shows and I would encourage all parents to take their children to the West End to see these wonderful stories of people who laugh in the face of prejudice and accept themselves.