Coming soon: free school meals at Northern Stage

Published: 3 August 2021
Reporter: Peter Lathan

Free School Meals

Free School Meals, a new show inspired by Marcus Rashford’s campaign to end child food poverty, will open Northern Stage for the first time since the pandemic closed the theatre last year, running from 25 to 28 August.

The show has been created by Unfolding Theatre. Director Annie Rigby explains how the show came about.

“Bringing people together is what Unfolding Theatre is all about,” she said, "and welcoming people is a big part of our ethos—we’ve baked bread, served drinks and cooked pancakes for families on their doorsteps during lockdown and we wanted our next show to be even more ambitious in how it hosted its audience.

"Inspired by Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaign against the inadequate food parcels offered to families during the pandemic, and having listened to more than 4,000 children and young people tell us about the change they wanted to see in the world in our Multiverse Lab project (an interactive, online experience aiming to gather the opinions of 2,000 people about what matters to them when it comes to their health), we started thinking about inequality, protest and hope for change. Then, like many of our best ideas, no one can remember who said it. But someone said: what if we made a show set in a restaurant run by children?”

Thus Free School Meals was born. Written by Luca Rutherford and co-created with 40+ school children aged 8 to 12, the show is set in The Future: a restaurant run by children serving up super fresh ingredients and a healthy portion of home truths.

Writer Luca Rutherford said, “I have always been fascinated by children’s imagination and curiosity. You hear children ask the question ‘why?’, often to adults’ eventual annoyance. I think this is one of the best questions in the world and it’s at the heart of the creative process for Free School Meals. It is so simple and so profound and so open.

“While writing this show, I’ve also been asking myself how to honour the imagination of children to build a better world. I’ve created a structure and woven a narrative together based on the world created in the devising process, leaving chunks unwritten, marked only with a question. We then brought these questions into the workshops with local children at Byker Primary school, because I don’t want to be an adult telling children what to say—the writing process has to honour this, giving the children agency over the words they will be speaking in the performance.”

Free School Meals will be performed by a cast of school children with Alex Elliott and rapper Kay Greyson who has written original songs for the show. The creative team also includes choreographer Patrick Ziza, designer Simon Henderson, lighting designer Nick Rogerson, dramaturg Natalie Ibu and sound designer Garry Lydon.