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Giving young people a voice - Charlotte inspires fictional play about growing up in care

PUBLISHED: 10:17 20 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:52 20 October 2017

Red Rose Chain's Joanna Carrick and her Some Place Better co-writer Charlotte Jenkins. Photo: Contributed

Red Rose Chain's Joanna Carrick and her Some Place Better co-writer Charlotte Jenkins. Photo: Contributed

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Where is home to you? How a diary has inspired a new play looking at life growing up inside the care system.

Emma Swan and Fizz Waller in Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: Bill JacksonEmma Swan and Fizz Waller in Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: Bill Jackson

When Charlotte Jenkins has a bad day, she gets it out of her head by writing it in the diary she’s kept since going into care at 13. She laughs at the idea it would inspire a play.

“Not at all,” she smiled, remembering her first meeting with Red Rose Chain’s Joanna Carrick, with whom she’s created Some Place Better. “I thought is this a joke, I didn’t know what to say. I knew I wanted to do it, but I also knew my life is personal to me.”

The piece, commissioned and funded by Suffolk County Council, came about after she shared the no-holds-barred diary with a supportive former fosterer. She sent it to the authority’s head of social care who introduced Charlotte to the Ipswich theatre company.

Together they’ve spent the past year developing the 50-minute work which explores the hopeful highs, confusing lows, teenage rebellion and everything in-between of somebody growing up in the care system - told from the inside.

Emma Swan and Fizz Waller in Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: Bill JacksonEmma Swan and Fizz Waller in Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: Bill Jackson

Meeting weekly, Joanna says they got on straight away.

“Charlotte’s been absolutely brilliant. The diary’s really intense and there were lots of new questions I needed to explore so she would go off and write some more dialogue or write about a particular issue. Then we’d just discuss different topics and start to have different ideas, how to show the story. It’s got to be funny too, otherwise everybody’s going to get totally turned off.

“When you read the diary, you get the internal voice and for a young person it’s not that easy to express those sentiments. A lot of the time in those situations they’re either very passive or kicking off and there’s something else very much going on and she was able to articulate that in the diary.”

Red Rose Chain have done work in the past where, very powerfully, you see a young person not having a voice. This is the complete opposite.

Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: David NewbornRed Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: David Newborn

“We developed the idea of having Emma (Swan) playing what’s going on in her head, which seemed like a necessary thing to meet head on otherwise you’d lose that completely. It’s really challenging. Of course Fizz (Waller) has millions of parts to play and cardboard boxes which make up the set to look after.”

It was important to Charlotte too, who adds: “I remember sometimes being really okay about everything, but then the voice in my head was saying ‘what are you doing? This is not how you feel’.”

Emma jokes she’s been driving her inspiration mad, laughing: “I’ve been like ‘just say that for me, how do we say that, what’s the intonation on this’. I’m quite a perfectionist so we’ll soon be identical.”

Fizz says working alongside Charlotte has been great, adding there’s always some essence of responsibility or rather authenticity with every performance.

Fizz Waller in Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: David NewbornFizz Waller in Red Rose Chain's Some Place Better. Photo: David Newborn

“This one is quite special and different in that respect, I feel this show is testament to the people we’re working with; that we’re in it together. I feel very proud to be part of it.”

Facts have been scrambled and moments made up, ultimately nobody but Charlotte knows what’s real and what’s not.

Watching the fictionalised version of her time in care, Charlotte doesn’t think she would’ve done anything differently back then.

She’s a great believer in everything happens for a reason.

“Without all those terrible and good things that happened I wouldn’t be who I am, so in a way I’m grateful for them.”

There was barely a dry eye in the house during last night’s performance.

It’s a visceral, moving and brave piece. Hard to watch at times, several fosterers in the audience described it afterwards as an eye-opener and how they wished more carers and children currently in the system could see it.

Intense as it was, there were beautiful moments of lightness and ultimately a sense of hope. Emma, as the lead character’s inner voice, breaks and mends your heart in equal measure. Fizz makes every person she plays - of which there are many - feel so real rather than caricatures just passing through.

The staging was genius; a jumble of packing boxes that were shuffled and tossed around to form everything from bedrooms to cars. So too is another staging element, which I won’t spoil.

The writing is pitch perfect. Charlotte told the audience it’s her ambition to be a published author. I look forward to reading her first book.

Some Place Better runs at The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich, October 20-21 and visits London’s Theatre N16 on October 22.

Councillor Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “As a corporate parent, Suffolk County Council is committed to empowering and encouraging young people in the county. I’m thrilled we’re involved with this project as it provides an important voice for young people.”

He added helping some of Suffolk’s most vulnerable children and young people grow into successful, confident and resilient young adults is hugely rewarding and urged potential fosterers to email fosterandadopt@suffolk.gov.uk or call 01473 264800.

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