How Great Ormond Street Hospital patients inspired Peut-Être Theatre

Find out how patients at London’s famous children’s hospital, Great Ormond Street, helped create touring dance show Tidy Up

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We all know hospitals have theatres. And we know that, apart from a handful of eccentric surgeons, nobody sings and dances in them. That doesn’t mean that hospitals are arts-free zones. Especially not Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

When JM Barrie gifted the copyright for Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street, he ensured the world-renowned medical centre would forever have a link with the arts. But this link stretches beyond the money raised by the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

Great Ormond Street has its own arts participation and commissioning programme. It works to bring the arts into the hospital, from pieces to thrill and lift spirits to participatory programmes to entertain and inspire.

Peut-Être Theatre’s dance piece Tidy Up grew out of that programme. The show, which is touring the UK, explores mess and organisation. It was inspired by both the playful and the scientific, by interactions with patients and discussions about cognitive and neurological learning.

Caroline Moore, arts officer programming for GOSH Arts, tells us more:

Peut-Être Theatre’s Tidy Up
Peut-Être Theatre’s Tidy Up

“The Peut-Être Theatre residency at Great Ormond Street Hospital was a new approach for GOSH Arts. The company truly moved in. They had a dedicated space in the hospital cafeteria as their home for three weeks and used this as a base to work across the hospital. They staged workshops, performances and discussions in spaces ranging from waiting rooms to the bedside.

“It was a remarkable experience for families and staff, which enhanced a sense of well-being for those who interacted with Peut-Être Theatre’s creative team. The company created a sense of excitement in the hospital, developed relationships with staff and taught GOSH Arts to push the boundaries of how we engage artists in the day-to-day activities we put on in the hospital.

“It was such a pleasure to watch the interactions between the families at GOSH and the dancers from Peut-Être Theatre. It was a luxury for our arts programme to have a number of artists able to focus on individual children. And for them to spend as much time as they needed working together.

“The workshops that Peut-Être Theatre led were simply a group of people exploring the physicality of movement and enjoying being creative together. Age and experience was not a factor. No one was leading. Everyone was just dancing, having fun and learning from each other.

Peut-Être Theatre’s Tidy Up
Peut-Être Theatre’s Tidy Up

“During a workshop on Safari ward [the oncology outpatient area], two of the dancers, Anna [Woolhouse] and Maya [Politaki], met a child they had met before on another ward. When they’d first met, she was full of energy and enthusiasm. But this time she was more tired and reserved.

“Anna and Maya saw the child sitting cradled by her mum. They were unsure if she would want to join in. At first they decided not to approach her. But then they re-evaluated and decided to put the decision in her hands. They went back and asked her if she would like to dance, and she was very keen.

“They worked together for half an hour. By the end she had become a joyous dancer stretching out, giving directions, climbing over and intertwining with Anna and Maya as they all danced together.  By giving choices and not jumping to conclusions, the dancers empowered that child at a very difficult time.

“It was really exciting to see how the ideas generated by patients and staff fed directly into the development of Tidy Up. Many of the moments, sounds and ideas that flow through the show came directly from those workshops, conversations and experiences. To us, this constitutes true co-production. And means Tidy Up celebrates GOSH patients’ creativity, and in many cases their personalities!”

Peut-Être Theatre‘s Tidy Up is touring the UK until March 2018. It stops in London at the Southbank Centre, Polka Theatre, Stratford Circus and The Albany.