Friday, 3 April 2015


Yesterday, one of my local secondary schools took students to Nottingham’s Theatre Royal to watch the matinee performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Last term one of my kids was lucky enough to go on a school trip to see TWO West End plays in one day, (The Curious Incident and War Horse) They left early and got back at 1am but it was absolutely worth it and the heavily subsidised cost was extremely reasonable.  It was a great experience for all the students.

There’s no getting away from the fact that arranging school trips to go anywhere is a major headache for staff with all the ridiculous form filling, health and safety checks, not to mention chasing payment up, but it’s well worth the hassle to take students to see entertaining, thought- provoking plays.

I’m grateful that many schools are prepared to put in this extra effort and time for their students as so many families can’t afford to take their kids to the theatre.  Schools may be providing the only chance many students get to experience a professionally produced play.  The price of tickets means that theatre excludes many people and that’s why it’s essential that theatres provide decent discounts for school parties, students and those on low incomes.

Theatre still suffers from an image problem.  This perception isn’t helped by the fact that many of them can feel slightly intimidating place (unless you’re going to see the annual Pantomime).  Maybe the atmosphere in many theatres is too formal, maybe it’s the fear of having a coughing fit mid performance that’s stresses people out, but there are plenty of theatres throughout the U.K. that are well run and welcoming to all.  The best theatres can make your visit have a sense of occasion without being stuffy.

Nottingham Theatre Royal
There’s another reason, apart from the cost, why many families rarely go to the theatre and that’s because they think it’s going to be boring and that they’re better off going to the movies.  I know that my kids would always choose the cinema over the theatre. However, many well staged plays can provide immersive experiences to rival that of any film.  For example, the stage version of ‘The Woman in Black’ is widely acknowledged to be scarier than the film and I’ll never forget Steven Berkoff’s production of ‘On The Waterfront’ which felt as powerful as the amazing Brando movie.

Theatre can get children and young adults excited about plays, books, stories.  So many wonderful children’s novels have been adapted into stage plays and watching these productions can introduce them to a whole new generation.

The West End is currently packed with such adaptations; Matilda, War Horse, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Railway Children, Treasure Island, Horrible Histories.  These fantastic plays should be available to all and West End theatres need to keep offering school parties discounted, affordable tickets.  It would also be great if more of these big productions toured the U.K. so people can enjoy them without all the added expense of going to London.

For students forced to study Shakespeare, it can be a revelation going to see the plays performed (I know that it was for me).  Suddenly all this weird language starts to make sense and the drama and intrigue of the play is revealed (I’m a sucker for performances of the Tragedies and Histories, but the Comedies just don’t do it for me).

It’s fantastic to see a theatre packed with teenagers watching productions that bring their set texts to life (like To Kill A Mocking Bird).  However, it’s always reassuring to see all the school parties and know that kids, whose parents can’t afford to take them, aren’t missing out.

 Schools have such an important role to play, not just in education, but in broadening students’ experiences and giving them opportunities that they wouldn’t usually have.  Trips to the theatre can be part of this and so, especially in these pressurised times, I’d like to say well done to all the schools that go that extra mile.

Did your school take you to see plays?  What’s the best play that you’ve ever watched?


Paula Rawsthorne is the author of the award winning novels, The Truth About Celia Frost  and Blood Tracks.  She’s a writer-in residence in a secondary school for First Story. 


  1. I went to see King Lear at Stratford as we were studying it at A Level. I absolutely loved it!

  2. Well said. I love the theatre and that's because I was exposed to local community theatre at a young age. My parents also drove us five hours to Chicago to see MY FAIR LADY when I was a teen. There's nothing like live theatre. This week I passed a line of school kids going to see MATILDA. All I could think was that were in for an amazing afternoon!