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The Children’s Inquiry | Southwark Playhouse Elephant

The Children's Inquiry is a new verbatim musical that turns the adage "children should be seen and not heard" on its head. Written by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead, the co-directors of the award-winning Lung Theatre, this musical dives deep into the UK childcare system through the eyes of four teenagers. It's a production that fuses the innovative storytelling of Hamilton with the youthful spirit of Matilda, resulting in a compelling and poignant theatrical experience.


The musical spans 150 years of childcare history, highlighting the significant impact politics has on the lives of children. By weaving together events from the World Wars, the Gay Rights Movement, Brexit, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the production paints a vivid picture of how the care system has evolved, often in reactionary ways that fail to adequately support those it is meant to help. The perspectives of social workers, carers, and the young people themselves are intricately interwoven, revealing an impressive level of research and authenticity.


Performed by two sets of ten young professional actors, each bringing their unique energy to the stage on different nights, the production is set against a minimalist backdrop designed by Lulu Tam. The setting of stacked chairs and tables directs the audience's focus onto the performers, whose dynamic and energetic performances drive the narrative forward.


The show begins in the courtroom with the young people asking the audience to rise, setting the tone for a politically charged piece that invites viewers to form their own judgments. From there, the musical brilliantly interweaves news headlines, policies, and political speeches with a pop-rock score crafted by Owen Crouchand Clem Douglas. The fusion of pop music sensibilities with verbatim lyrics is no small feat, but the result is a series of catchy, infectious tracks that linger in the mind long after the curtain falls.


Each musical number addresses different challenges and scenarios within the care system, confronting harsh realities without sugar-coating them. While it is painful to watch at times, the truth is presented with such power that it shatters the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding children in care. The ensemble cast delivers outstanding performances, with each performer having moments to shine in solo numbers, though it is in the group numbers where their voices truly blend and soar.


Despite the heavy subject matter, there is hope and a lightness to the piece. It emphasises that love prevails even in the face of political and system failures. The message is clear: systems can't save people, but people can. This idea is reinforced by the slick, sharp choreography of Alexzandra Sarmiento and Lauren Stroud, which occasionally incorporates props like cut-out masks, flags, and plastic bags to elevate the narrative and social message. The lighting design by Will Monks does much of the heavy lifting, complementing the minimalist set and adding depth to the performance.


The Children's Inquiry is more than just a musical; it's a call to action. It entertains, but more importantly, it provokes and challenges the audience to rethink their perceptions and rise to the occasion to change the narrative surrounding children in the care system. This is an urgent and significant piece of theatre that shines a light on stories too often swept under the rug, reminding us that every child has the potential to be a success story.


The Children's Inquiry plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 3rd August. For more information and tickets, follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Alex Powell


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