An Over the Top performance highlights military influence in schools

We're Journeymen Theatre Company and last year we were approached by Central England Peace Committee to devise and produce a theatre-based response to World War I. What we were led to do was to make a play which combined elements from WWI and 21st century conflicts but which also highlighted the insidious and inexorable march of military influence in schools.

An Over The Top performance at Friends House
Lynn performs Over The Top. Photo credit: Ellis Brooks

Our resulting project is entitled Over the Top; a 50 minute play exploring the dilemma created when two contrasting points of view over the role of the military in our schools and society clash and reach a head-on confrontation.

The story

One of the two characters who appear in the play is a lifelong Quaker and peace activist. She also happens to be a war widow, having lost her army chaplain husband in the Iraq war eleven years previously. 'Kathy' has had her Quaker ideals and beliefs both stretched and strengthened in some ways by this tragedy but it can also make her seem intractable to her young son in particular.

Matters come to a head when she has to act as a matter of conscience to try to prevent a full military training option being offered at her son's school as part of a Creative Challenge programme. Here she meets the full force of the head teacher, Dr Roberts, who sees nothing but positive advantages for his school through engaging closely with the military on as many occasions as possible.

Quietly expressed appreciation

We have already had eight performances of the show in Birmingham, Stourbridge and Coventry schools and colleges to groups of very engaged and sometimes very informed young people. RE teachers are particularly enthusiastic about Over the Top as it brings certain key features of Quaker faith to life and shows elements of Quakerism in practice.

The play also allows them to examine and discuss what may be happening in their own schools and, at the very least, raises the issue of white poppies for Remembrance Day and why are these not offered as an alternative or adjunct to traditional red ones. Teachers have frequently approached us afterwards to quietly express appreciation and to confide that the play says things that they would like to say in their lessons but feel it would be unsafe to do so.

A springboard to discussion

The play is now developing another life as it is being booked by concerned Quakers countrywide to be used as a springboard to begin the discussion about military creep in our schools and society with public groups.

This play is our faith in action; we regard it a kind of travelling ministry, outreach and as a way of demonstrating that we don't just sit quietly and attempt to lead a peaceful life but that we're also a radical and pro-active Society with a powerful vision for a different world.

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