The Face Front Inclusive Theatre’s touring production of Whisper Me Happy Ever After (WMHEA)began on 20/2/23 and ended on 30/3/23, although rehearsals took place between 8th-16th February 2023. The play is currently performed for primary school aged children in years five and six. As well as including elements of humour, music and dance, the WMHEA drama has a very serious focus and turns a sharp but sensitive spotlight on the deeply troubling issue of domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse and violence continue to cast a ravaging impact on survivors and our society. The aim of the WMHEA production is to equip children with knowledge, education and understanding about the nature of domestic abuse, and how they can gain help and support for themselves and their families if they are facing such difficulties.
In June 2020, the MSI Reproductive Choices Charity reported that there was a 33% increase in domestic violence during the COVID- 19 lockdown restrictions that meant that women and children were isolated with their abusers. These figures formed part of a 20% spike in overall associated safeguarding concerns during the first two months of lockdown. Other increases concerned the numbers of women and children who were reported to be experiencing mental health problems.
The prevalence of domestic abuse in the UK cannot be denied, minimised or overstated. Every year nearly 2 million people in the UK suffer from some form of domestic abuse – 1.3 million female victims (8.2% of the population) and 600,000 male victims (4%). Although these shocking figures indicate a high prevalence of domestic abuse in the UK, it is important to recognize that domestic abuse is often a hidden crime, which people do not feel able to record or report possibly due to feelings of shame, fear or surrounding colluding family pressures. Thus, data held by the police only provides a glimpse, at best, as to what is actually going on.
Tragically, some domestic violence has fatal consequences. At the present time, 100,000 people in the UK are at high or imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result, with seven women a week being killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales (Touchstone, 2023). However, abuse is not always physical. Coercive control is one of the most insidious aspects of domestic abuse and is sadly increasing (ONS, 2022).
The current picture regarding the incidence and prevalence of domestic violence continues to present with alarming figures. A domestic abuse crime is committed every minute in the UK ( Neighbourhood Watch, 2023) and domestic violence is now a feature in 1 in 5 homicides in the UK (Touchstone, 2023).
The need for the WMHEA tour is thus greater than ever as we try to reach school-age audiences in the hope that by imparting information and understanding we will help to offset the course of domestic abuse and violence by educating children and helping to boost their levels of emotional literacy, empathy, self-advocacy and self- awareness as they move into young adulthood.
We also know that between January 2005 and August 2015, 19 children and two women were killed by perpetrators of domestic abuse specifically in circumstances relating to informally or formally arranged contact(Women’s Aid, 2016). Hence, there is also the very real hope that the WMHEA tour can, in some circumstances, save lives.
It is often said that London is a collection or city of villages, each with its own unique history, flavour and identity. London has grown as a city in layers throughout different periods of history. Perhaps one of the first historical figures to note this was the novelist, Mark Twain. In 1896, Twain wrote, ‘London is called the City, and it, with a patch of its borderland, is a city. It is fifty villages massed solidly together over a vast stretch of territory. Each village has its own name and its own government.’ Fast forward to 2023, London’s profile as a city of villages endures and during the WMHEA tour we visited many such ‘villages’ within five London boroughs – Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield and Haringey. The differences between the schools and their surrounding regions were significant and we were aware of differences in wealth, demographics and there were significant differences in the disclosures made by the children. Schools also differed in the resources available to them.
The numbers of primary schools visited in each borough;
Barnet – 3
Brent – 3
Camden – 8
Enfield – 6
Haringey – 4
Total number of schools visited = 24
Total number of performances = 31
Total number of the child audience = 1528
Total number of the adult audience = 148
Total audience number = 1672
At the close of the forum section of each production, the children were invited to stay behind if they had any problem or worry with which they were struggling and talk with a member of the WMHEA who would endeavour to get them some support via the school’s safeguarding team.
The children were largely very engaged with the performances. There was often lots of laughter, gasps, clapping, hands over mouths, thumb sucking, squeals of ‘oh, no!’ covering their ears and eyes, sitting on the edge of their seats with eyes as large as pudding bowls. In their completed evaluation/feedback questionnaires, the children made the following remarks about what they thought about the play and what they had learned;
‘If something goes wrong there is always a way to work it out’ – Year 5 pupil
‘Never keep your worries inside’ Year 6 pupil
‘Speak about your worries and get help’ Year 6 pupil
‘Speak out, stay safe and love the way you are’ Year 6 pupil
‘I will remember that domestic violence doesn’t only affect two or more people, it will affect the whole family in a terrible way.’ Year 6 pupil
‘I learnt that sometimes secrets can damage your physical and emotional heart.’ Year 6 pupil.
‘No matter how old, tall or smart you are, you still might be witnessing domestic violence.’ Year 6.
‘Never be afraid to tell people about what you’re going through.’ Year 5 pupil
‘I have learned that whatever happens in my life or family, that there are people who can help me’ Year 6 pupil.
‘The acting was brilliant; the message is so important and helpful’ – Year 5 teacher
It is with a heavy heart that we must report that the need for the Whisper Me Ever After Tour continues but as long as children’s lives feature domestic abuse, parental or sibling abuse, bullying, self-harm and any other forms of risk to physical and emotional health and well-being, we will be there supporting children as best as we can.