Saplings Theatre tackles cyber-bullying

Cyber-bullying is a major issue for teens today. Last Friday’s production by Saplings Theatre School in Martley was an inspirational response to it, enabling the young people themselves to explore not just the consequences of it, but the complex motivations behind it.

Sophie's arrival (far left) is about to disrupt Sam's life (third from left)

Sophie’s arrival (far left; played by Katie) is about to disrupt Sam’s life (third from left, played by Lottie)

Messages on the phone and Internet begin to disturb Sam

Sophie begins to send malicious messages on the phone and Internet, which begin to disturb and ultimately humiliate Sam

Dan senses something is wrong in Sam's life, but she can't face admitting what's happening to her

Dan (played by Ollie) senses something is wrong in Sam’s life, but she can’t face admitting what’s happening to her

Mum (played by Amber) can't help either

Mum (played by Amber) can’t help either – but her persistence eventually pays off

Eventually Sam is able to talk about the cyber-bullying and she is persuaded to talk to the police

Sam is persuaded to talk about the cyber-bullying and ultimately to tell the police

Sophie's bullying comes as a reaction to the pain in her own life: in this case a broken home and a Dad who's unable to deal with his own failings

Sophie’s bullying comes as a reaction to the pain in her own life: in this case a broken home and a Dad (also played by Ollie)  who’s unable to deal with his own failings

Sam is able to overcome the bullying and initiate reconciliation with Sophie

Sam is able to overcome the bullying and initiate reconciliation with Sophie

Saplings is run by Louisa Wilde, and at the start of the term she asked the students themselves which topic they wanted to explore. They voted for cyber-bullying. Much of the framework of the play was developed by them but the actual script was written by Louisa.

What impressed me particularly was the depth of the plot itself. It revealed the crushing experience of being the victim of cyber-bullying, the sense of humiliation and the difficulty in being able to seek help in confronting it – all these were brilliantly captured by Lottie, playing Sam. But the plot also explored the emotional struggles of Sophie, played by Katie, desperate to gain acceptance in a new school, hurting from being abandoned by her mother and being brought up by her turbulent father.

Louisa’s artistic motivation was to use the theme to explore Brechtian theatre – an approach to theatre which seeks not just to reflect reality but to shape it. It would have been easy enough to produce a play on this theme that would have ended in despair – but that is hardly transformative.

Instead, because Sam was persuaded to confront the problem rather than to keep cowering under it, she was then able to effect a reconciliation with Sophie, her bully – and to meet her in her own isolation and despair. It is a tribute to the emotional integrity of the script and the acting abilities of the young people themselves that this came across as authentic and convincing. It is an inspiring play that deserves a wider audience.

Louisa Wilde, as the artistic director, appears to be unusually gifted at refining and developing the talents of the young people, and enabling them to explore an emotionally-charged subject so that they – and we in the audience – grow through it.

The introduction to the play included a video clip, “Cyberbullying: there is a way out!” and the postscript included part of a TED talk by Shane Koyczan: “To This Day… for the bullied and beautiful“, both of which are worth viewing.

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