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Trainee nurses and social workers add a dash of drama to lecture theatre learning

Posted Thursday 30 May 2013

Ralf Little and Rebecca Johnson on stage at the Rose theatre in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. Photo: Simon AnnandA group of nursing and social work students from Kingston University and St George's, University of London swapped the lecture hall for the theatre as they took a trip to the Rose in Kingston to watch a star-studded cast explore some challenging issues around disability and parenting.

More than 50 learning disability nursing and social work students and staff from the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education saw Ralf Little take centre stage in a version of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - a black comedy exploring the love and pain of a young couple bringing up a child with cerebral palsy. The students even got the chance to question the director Stephen Unwin, who has a disabled son himself, and members of the cast in a post-show panel discussion.

Principal lecturer in nursing Trish Griffin said the students were quite taken aback by the impact the play had on them. "Some were surprised by the content. It's set in the 1960s when attitudes towards disability were quite different so it was pretty hard hitting," she said. "The students said the show really opened their eyes to the strain bringing up a child with a disability could place on parents and it helped them see things from a different perspective." This enhanced understanding was something they could take forward and use in their future careers, she added.

The drama, written by British playwright Peter Nichols in 1967, tells the story of Bri (Ralf Little) and Sheila (Rebecca Johnson), a couple who are struggling to save their marriage while bringing up their disabled daughter Josephine (Jessica Bastick-Vines). Sheila has devoted her life to caring for her daughter, but Bri believes Joe may be better off in specialist care.

Learning disability nursing student Lee Butler, 23, said the play delivered a powerful message about the challenges parents could face in such circumstances. "The characters were struggling with very difficult issues such as 'Who will look after my child when I die?' and 'What happens if my child dies before me?'. It was very poignant to see the portrayal of a father considering the idea of ending his child's life," Lee said. "It made me think about what this said about his judgment of the quality of life she had and helped me realise what parents go through and the sorts of issues I may need to provide support with when I'm qualified."

The students' theatre trip was arranged by the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education at Kingston and St George's in conjunction with the Rose Theatre. "This is the first time that we have organised this type of learning experience and the students have clearly benefitted. We will certainly be offering similar types of opportunities in the future," Ms Griffin said. "Kingston University has strong links with the Rose and it's been fantastic for our students to benefit from those connections in this way."

Ralf Little as Bri and Rebecca Johnson as his wife Sheila, parents to disabled daughter Josephine in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg - photo by Simon Annand

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