Children’s Monologues: moving stories of horror on the London stage

November 26, 2015

A recent night at the Royal Court theatre in London was an eye-opening experience. I had the pleasure of supporting the performance of Children’s Monologues, an ensemble production featuring many leading actors and directed by Danny Boyle with Royal Court Associate Director Gbolahan Obisesan. The performance was to raise funds for the creative arts charity Dramatic Need, which supports vulnerable children in Africa, aiming to build hope and self-belief in the face of conflict, trauma and hardship.

The monologues were all based on the real testimony of young African children about an unforgettable day in the life of a child from Rammulotsi, a small rural township in the Free State province of South Africa.

These days might have begun as beautiful-sounding memories but as they progressed, events soon took an unexpected turn towards violence or sorrow. It gave those of us in the audience a glimmer of the deep sense of instability, fear and powerlessness with which the children lived every day.

The cast members, which included Cressida Bonas, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman and James McAvoy, were all moving and absorbing. I was particularly affected by the court testimony of a young boy. He revealed how he had been taken out for a day with his father and uncle. They had offered a young pregnant woman a ride and then drove her to the forest to gang rape her. They even forced the young boy – a son, a nephew – to participate in the rape. Afterwards, he saw the woman set on fire by the two most important men of his life.

How would one ever learn to live with such an experience without brutalising one’s own soul?

We are more aware of the potential for long term damage; the evidence is already collected. Medical researchers at the Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, published work in 1998 which showed how exposure to violence and emotional trauma at a young age could trigger violent behaviour in adolescence. And so if the initial horror is not prevented, we may find ourselves with further generations of angry, violent adults who repeat the mistakes and cruelty of their parents.

I applaud the charity for using such extraordinary stories, bringing awareness to the plight of these children, and using drama to help them unleash their imagination and to experience a different reality to the one they live.

They remind us that we cannot take goodness for granted, that across the world children are in desperate need of care. The world does not just need global citizens, but universal parents too.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation