Playing ON is a new theatre company and social enterprise, set up in 2010 with graduates of the National Youth Theatre’s Playing Up programme to produce quality theatre, transforming the lives of disenfranchised people.

The company translates their authentic voices and real life stories into high quality new writing.  Through taking part in Playing On workshops and performances, participants can become professional theatre-makers, gain skills for life and are empowered to re-engage with education, training and employment.


Hearing Things

Hearing Things
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 April, 8pm
Saturday 30 April, 2.30pm
The Albany
Douglas Way, Deptford
London SE8 4AG

Book here

Hearing ThingsExploring the dilemmas and challenges faced by people working or living in psychiatric hospitals, Hearing Things draws on experiences of patients and staff, the ‘healthy’ and the ‘ill’, to consider if and how healing is possible in that context.

Since collaborating with mental health charity MAC-UK at the Roundhouse in March 2011, we have worked with many people who are affected by the stigma of mental illness. Following successful engagement programmes within the psychiatric wards of Homerton and the Maudsley hospitals devising theatre with staff and patients, we enjoyed a residency at the mental Health Club’s Dragon Cafe in Borough before setting up a free weekly drama group here at the Albany.

This new play by award winning playwright Philip Osment, which explores the difficulties and dilemmas faced by both staff and patients working within mental health in the UK is on at the Albany in Deptford from April 26th-30th.

To view an ITV report on our work click here

We look forward to seeing you soon,

Jim Pope
Playing On
Book Online thealbany.org.uk
Box Office 020 8692 4446

The Albany
Douglas Way, Deptford
London SE8 4AG

The Albany >>>


Drop In Drama for Mental Wellbeing

From Wednesday 16 March, 6pm – 8.30pm

Drop In Drama for Mental Wellbeing

Join us each Wednesday from 16 March at the Albany for social, skills based drama workshops that will focus around improvisation and play with opportunities for you to perform in a festival of work.

These sessions are designed for adults ages 18+ who have experienced or who are experiencing mental health issues.

If you are interested in joining please contact creative@thealbany.org.uk
All sessions are free.

Ages 18+




Published by Oberon Books http://oberonbooks.com/inside

“Its impact on the audience was startling and, for me, it was a most convincing theatrical representation of life in prison”   Sir Ian McKellan

INSIDE was our first professional production.  It was initially researched in Rochester prison in 2008 with a young fathers group. Our cast had experience of homelessness; unemployment, prison or probation and we worked with them for two years to create an impressive team of actors, workshop leaders and role models for young people facing similar problems.

In 2010 we were funded by the Arts Council to stage INSIDE in the Studio Theatre at the Roundhouse in Camden where we had a sell out run to great critical acclaim.  The production attracted a hugely diverse audience and we were overwhelmed by the response of both traditional theatregoers and younger audiences for whom this was their first theatre experience.

The Roundhouse box office reported that:

13 of the 16 performances during the run were completely SOLD OUT

70% of bookings for INSIDE were FIRST TIME bookers


The mentally ill are a profoundly disenfranchised group and the company aims to bring their unheard voices to theatre audiences

HEARING THINGS is a drama programme involving collaboration between the Playing On Theatre Company, NHS clinicians and residents of Homerton Hospital, drawing together the stories of those receiving and providing mental health care.

People often fear the stigma and mistreatment from mental health workers. Our programme will look at their journey from when they are admitted, receive diagnoses, are prescribed medication; begin a ‘talking’ therapy, to returning back to community. Through the delivery of drama workshops with people based in inpatient settings, Playing On will validate the individual and communal experiences of suffering with and recovering from mental illness.

Our overarching goal for the HEARING THINGS programme is to commission a play for public theatre, integrating the themes from the community work with MAC-UK and NHS inpatient care, to improve public understanding of mental health care.

See Workshops and Residencies for the early development phase of this project

In May 2012 we delivered a series of engagement workshops for residents from the secure psychiatric unit in  Homerton Hospital.  This marked the second phase of our research and development within the mental health sector.
IN 2013 we developed two scratch performances with Playing ON members and mental health services users. These played at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and the Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich to enthusiastic audiences.

We have secured funding from the Maudsley charity for a residential programme at the Maudsley from April to June 2014 culminating in performances on the ward, in the Ortus Centre and as part of the Anxiety Festival at the Albany in Deptford; there is encouragement from a major funder for core funding; and there is a good chance with two others of funding for a professional theatre production to tour in 2015.

Workshops and Residencies


MAC-UK was founded in 2008 by clinical psychologist Dr Charlie Alcock to engage with some of the UK’s most excluded and deprived young people who are most in need of support but least likely to access it. The unique MAC-UK model takes mental health into their territories on their terms to promote positive mental health through innovative youth led projects and one-to-one Street Therapy work.

Playing ON worked with young MAC-UK service users over a 10-week period with the group participating in weekly workshops tailor made to their needs, facilitating a process for them to share their stories, which were then developed into an hour long theatre piece.  This was performed at the Roundhouse studio theatre in Camden.

One young person described their experience:

“…after you do the drama you get this feeling…it feels as if whatever was bothering you went away and you feel light and can do whatever you want around you, it makes the day simpler and you can concentrate on your activities, it makes you feel better, like at the end of the day when you come home from work tired and you want to put your feet up, you don’t feel guilty relaxing as you have done a hard days work. I wanted to understand the person and put myself in their shoes.  At the end of it I felt good.  150% happy!” (participant) 

Dr Johnny Downs, Registrar Child Psychiatry, The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust participated in the programme and had the following to say about it:

 “ I joined MAC-UK because I am very interested in understanding what methods can be used to engage young people who may have mental health issues but struggle to access NHS services. The Playing ON theatre group provides that opportunity.  It has helped me understand how theatre techniques can be used to build skills that enhance psychological understanding and resilience in young people without them, per se, feeling exposed to the stigmatising effects of mental health treatment”. 



In October 2011, Playing ON visited Ranby prison to deliver an intensive three-week drama programme looking at family and its impact on the lives of the prisoners.  The prison group watched the full-length version of the play INSIDE which was filmed at the Roundhouse studio before discussing what the programme would involve and what would be required to participate.

“Thanks for your support and guidance, you are up there with the best that have visited Ranby.  The guys had some really good things to say about you in the post-performance afternoon session.” – John Parkinson, HMP Ranby

We started by sharing personal stories from which the group created fictional characters to explore real life dilemmas relating to the family.  From these situations, we developed dramatic scenarios to make a piece. 

An unexpected outcome occurred during the final rehearsals when one prisoner with no previous experience showed a flair for dramaturgical structure and ended up leading the devising and directing of a scene.

Following the final performance, several prisoners from the induction wing said that they wanted to sign up for education and were keen to do drama.

This was the first time that the education staff at Ranby had attached accreditation to one of the art courses delivered by a visiting company. The team worked together to evidence the prisoners work using video and creating space for reflective conversations during and at the end of each day.





In April 2011 Playing ON worked in partnership with the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich to deliver a programme of work at Westbridge pupil referral unit with year 10 and 11 children who have been excluded from school.  We delivered a series of workshops leading to a devised piece, which was performed in the studio theatre at the New Wolsey

“We felt that the project was structurally sound on all levels.  The students and staff got a great deal from this piece of work.  It is easy to not believe our students can work in this way.  This shows it can be done effectively, with a good outcome.”   Carey Fish, deputy head, Westbridge pupil referral unit



In April 2012 Michael Amaning and Segun Olaiya represented the company in a trip to Brazil as part of a cultural warriors programme with Peoples Palace Productions to share practice with Afro-Reggae in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

” Brazil helped me realise that regardless of the struggle you’re in, there is a possibility to find dignity and happiness. My attitude even more than before is to enjoy, make do and live with what’s around us and honour the life we’ve got.”  Segun Olaiya, Associate artist, Playing ON

The cultural warriors programme was a three year process bringing together UK theatre companies and AfroReggae from Rio de Jenrio. This project was organised by People’s Palace Projects and involved us (Playing On), The Lawnmowers from Newcastle , Contact Theatre in Manchester, the Sage in Gateshead and Theatre Royal Stratford East in London. It was a three year sharing process of practices and values which resulted in a delegation going to Brazil to see how AfroReggae live and work. We spent 6 days sharing, learning, exploring and collaborating with AfroReggae and other inspirational companies in Rio. A full day was spent in the Favela Vigario Geral where the cultural warriors led a  workshop involving games, exercises, discussions, socialising, acceptance and sharing.

“Being in Brazil strengthened my practice and skills. Seeing how AfroReggae influences and takes care of their community gives me much more passion to go and do the same for my community and communities I work with. The arts is what we have in common and the friendship and love is what takes that art to another level.” – Michael Amaning, Associate artist, Playing ON



In April and May 2012 Playing On ran bi-weekly workshops with staff and patients in the secure psychiatric unit at Homerton Hospital .  The sessions included check-ins, mindfulness breathing, drama games, acting classes, character creation and improvisations.  The residency culminated in an improvised performance in Joshua Ward to an audience of patients and staff.


 “I am off now to be mad and I don’t have to be sectioned for it”  A patient on his way to one of the drama sessions run by Playing On

In the sharing patients played staff roles (Psychiatrist, Ward Sister, Intern, Pharmacist, Social Therapist) and staff played a patient, her mother and a health worker.  There was a Q and A afterwards where the patients were able to talk about the value of the sessions to the audience and two of the characters were “hot seated”

Director of the unit Jane Kelly said that she had been at the hospital for 20 years and that this was the most successful work she had ever seen on the wards.

Consultant psychiatrist Robert Fisher noted that the patients were able to perspectivise and put themselves in other people’s positions, differentiate between their own concerns and those of the characters and acknowledge when they weren’t doing that.

Patients also gained a sense of self-esteem and achievement from the success of the sharing

Jane Kelly stated that it was important for the staff present to see patients as people with their own unique talents and not just see them through their illness and a desire was expressed to repeat the process and to take it further.  


To view the trailer for INSIDE at the Roundhouse click here

Promotional video for Inside at the Roundhouse including interview with Jim Pope click here

ITV Report on Playing ON’s work at the Maudsley click here/a>

Old News

TRAPS OF THE MIND – a performance with staff and patients at the Maudsley Hospital


ITV Report on Playing ON’s work at the Maudsley click here>

In 2014 the company completed a 6 week residency at the Maudsley Hospital (SLAM) culminating in a performance on the ward and a public performance at the Maudsley Learning Centre (ORTUS)

Funded by the Maudsley Charity

Dr Dele Olajide, Consultant Psychiatrist at SLaM, said: “Psychotic patients seem able to focus on “normal emotions” and are capable of existential preoccupations when not being interrogated by professionals about their psychotic symptoms. Art and culture are perfect vehicles for achieving states of normality even while patients may be psychotically ill and hearing things.”

On June 26th 2014 there were scratch performances of HEARING THINGS with Playing ON actors and service users as part of the Anxiety Festival at the Albany in Deptford


Philip Osment wins Writers’ Guild Award 2013

Writers Guild 2013

Philip Osment has won the award for Best Theatre Play for Young People by the prestigious Writers Guild of Great Britain for his play WHOLE.

WHOLE, which toured to schools and theatre venues earlier this year with the Liverpool based 20 Stories High, was a phenomenal success with audiences and critics alike. A review in The Stage remarked: “Whole is one of the most hard-hitting and moving pieces of theatre for young audiences I’ve ever seen.”

The play explored the challenging themes of religion, sex and sexuality and was developed with Philip and 20 Stories Highs’ Young Actors Company in Liverpool.

The Writers Guild award ceremony is held annually in London and gives prizes for writers in many categories including Theatre, Radio TV and Film. Other notable winners at the ceremony included Peter Moffat for his TV series Silk, ITV soap Coronation Street for Best Continuing Drama and Sally El Hosaini for her screenplay My Brother the Devil. The renowned playwright David Edgar also received an award for outstanding contribution to writing and writers.

Philip said on winning the award:
“It is great to receive the award and fantastic that there is such an award because you can often feel a bit invisible writing plays for children and young people. However, that’s less true now than it was 20 years ago because more and more theatres and promoters are recognising the importance of that audience. The reputation of theatre for young people is enhanced by the quality of the work produced by 20 Stories High who provided the context for writing the play and supported all aspects of script development including rigorous dramaturgy from Julia Samuels [director] and Lin Coghlan [dramaturg]. The company also brokered a relationship for me with the young people in their youth theatre and young company. These young people were so generous in sharing their stories and giving feedback on the script at all stages.”

If you missed WHOLE and would like to know more, the play is available to buy online on Oberon’s website: http://www.oberonbooks.com/whole

Who Are We?

There are two artistic directors Jim Pope and Philip Osment who co-lead the artistic processes of writing and devising new work, directing performances and planning for each programme of work with a producer.

There are two associate artists Segun Olaiya and Michael Amaning who co-facilitate engagement workshops, perform in scratch and professional performances and contribute to strategic planning at company meetings. Both Segun and Michael were engaged through Playing ON’s outreach and engagement work and are role models for the vision of the company.

There are several Associate members who participate in devising sessions with new user groups, perform in scratch and professional performances and attend regular company meetings.


Philip is a highly experienced writer, director, dramaturg and teacher. He has written and translated plays for a wide range of organisations including Method and Madness, the RSC, Theatre Centre, the Unicorn Theatre, BBC Radio, the Royal Court, Red Ladder Theatre Company, The National Youth Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, Theatre Royal, Stratford East.  He directed for Gay Sweatshop, Theatre Centre, Red Ladder, at the National Theatre Studio, The Bristol Old Vic and Teatrul Dramatic, Constanza, Romania. In 2011he created and directed MAD BLUD, a verbatim piece about knife crime for the Theatre Royal Stratford East. He wrote and co-directed INSIDE and will be scripting HEARING THINGS.


Jim created the Playing Up programme for the National Youth Theatre, which was committed to delivering level 3 accredited learning to young people who were not in education, employment or training.  In its first year 14 out of its 18 strong cohort achieved places in top drama schools including RADA, Rose Bruford, ALRA and Central as well as leading universities Bristol and London Metropolitan.

He is a trainer for Leap Confronting Conflict and for the past year has been leading the START programme at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith for young people who have been excluded from mainstream education. He has provided teaching, training and consultation for the Roundhouse, The Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Cardboard Citizens and the NYT in peer mentoring and working with challenging behaviour and taught on BA and MA courses at Central SSD and Brighton University. He has extensive experience as an actor, director and teacher and performed the role of Liam in INSIDE, co-directing the Roundhouse production. He will direct HEARING THINGS


It all started about four years ago when I was trying to establish myself in the car trade by day and boxing at night.  I hoped that trouble had finished with me as I was fed up of trouble.  A friend of mine suggested that I go to a prison workshop training session and it was there that I discovered there were people not only discussing the issues of why young people were filling up our jails but how to keep them out once they had left.  The plan was to equip them with social skills that would help them on the outside and get them thinking about what can improve their life so they wont turn back to crime. Spearheading this work – and now a dear friend and business associate of mine – was Jim Pope.  His approach to the young people intrigued me, his opinions made sense and it seemed he had experienced many truths that give these problems life.  Jim pointed me in the direction of a social inclusion programme run by the National Youth Theatre that gave me the opportunity to attend workshops covering basic acting skills once a week.  This course was developed into ‘Playing Up’, an accredited 3-day intensive course created by Jim Pope covering the world of acting and its social relevance.  Although acting has become something I cannot do without, it was the social element of the process behind acting and the social impact it could have on its participants that appealed to me.  It could be used as a social tool to help create better communication amongst young people, getting them thinking outside the world they’ve grown to know.  It was at this point that I decided I did not want to take the ‘actors’ route.


I had discovered something I wanted to share, something I believed would benefit the young people where I grew up.  I did not want to just open doors that were once closed to me, I wanted to leave them open so others could follow.  During the course we were encouraged to apply to higher education institutions.  This is not something I had planned to do.  Going back to school would mean putting my life on hold. But I knew what it meant to embark on this journey and that it would take me to places I had never been and create a world which is better suited to what I wanted out of life – to help excel those who had been placed at a disadvantage in society through no fault of their own.  I applied and was successful in getting into Central School of Speech and Drama, London where I am studying Applied Theatre and Education.     


MICHAEL AMANING                                                                                                                                                                      

Michael is an actor and facilitator and originally met Jim in 2003 through Blue Sky Arts and Media, a New Deal regeneration initiative in South Kilburn for which Jim designed the curriculum. He attended a further education college but dropped out. He has subsequently completed Playing Up 2 and a degree course at East London University in Theatre Studies (International). Michael studied abroad in Chicago as part of his degree and has recently returned from working with AfroReggae in Brazil.

‘Travelling has been the biggest part of my journey. Being given the chance to study and learn in Chicago and Brazil has opened up my mind and added to my practice immensely. Visiting the favela’s in Brazil was a privilege and an experience I can adapt to my practice and use to share in my city and its communities.’.

Resource Archive



Philip Osment October 2010

In 2007 Jim Pope asked me to come and work with his group of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training) at the National Youth Theatre.  This group were taking part in the Playing Up course which Jim had set up as part of an outreach programme run by the NYT.  The young people involved had dropped out of education and some had experiences of homelessness, probation or prison.

At the same time Jim was conducting workshops in young offenders institutes (YOIs) as part of this outreach programme and he invited me to participate in the one he was running with a young fathers’ group in Rochester Prison which houses convicted sentenced young offenders serving up to 6 years.  The young men had previously all participated in a programme called Fathers Inside run by an organisation called Safeground.

Paul Roseby, the Artistic Director of the NYT had at the same time proposed that I should be commissioned to write a play entitled FATHERS INSIDE and on the basis of this and my experiences of the workshop in the prison Jim and I began work with the members of the Playing Up course in February 2008.  Their initial task was to create characters who, for some reason, were incarcerated and had young children.  These characters came out of discussions we had about my experiences in Rochester and out of their own experiences and knowledge.  We began to “hotseat” the characters – interviewing them about their lives which helped to define who they were and what the relationships between them might be.  These relationships were further developed through improvisation and slowly a story emerged.  This process culminated in three improvised performances in the Studio at the Soho Theatre in May 2008.  A few weeks later we took this improvised version to Cookham Wood YOI where the young men in the audience were rapt throughout and talked eagerly about the issues that the play brought up for them.  Most importantly they wanted to talk to the actors about their journeys – how they came to be such accomplished actors.

In 2009 our cast began the final year of the Playing Up programme – an accredited A-level standard course which would qualify them for higher education.  It was decided that as their final presentation our actors would perform FATHERS INSIDE.  I scripted the play and it had a longer run in the studio at the Soho Theatre in late August and early September 2009 garnering enthusiastic reviews and responses.

Given this positive response, Jim and I decided to set up a company (PLAYING ON) to provide professional development and employment for our actors.  We made an Arts Council application to restage a reworked version of the play which we now called INSIDE to avoid confusion with the Safeground programme and to research a new project with our cast.  At this point the Roundhouse came on board with the offer of financial support and a run in their studio theatre.



Jim Pope 9 December 2010

In June 2007, I was standing in the chapel of Feltham young offenders institute in a circle of pumped up, angry and disaffected young men between 18 and 21 years of age.  I had brought a team of artists consisting of a drama therapist, an ex offender and two members of the National Youth Theatre to deliver a series of drama workshops.  It was all part of the young offenders work which I was running for the NYT and which would eventually lead to the creation of Playing Up; a three-tiered training programme for those at risk of social exclusion which is now in its third successful year.  On that particular day, however, my concerns were more immediate;

Having formed the circle in order to get focus, I explained the intentions of the session and introduced the rules of a simple drama game to act as an ice breaker.  The largest and most pumped up of the group took his position in the centre of the circle and strutted about aggressively declaring he was not going to play “stupid kid games” he was a “gangster” and this was “bollocks.”  He made it very clear that he was not just speaking for himself but for the group and that anyone who did not comply with his wishes would suffer the consequences.

What was I going to do? A clear and unambiguous ban on drama had been imposed at the start of the session and the two hours which lay ahead started to feel like a long and lonely prospect.   I was considering calling the prison officers to lead the inmates back to their cells and wondered if it would be possible to gain their trust after such a capitulation when I remembered something which had once worked for me at a primary school in Wandsworth and thought it worth a try;

“Has anyone got any jokes?” I offered.

Slowly, the room began to warm up as the participants found themselves on familiar territory enjoying banter which was a long way from the political correctness usually associated with the delivery of applied theatre.

There is a certain moment in a drama workshop when the participants give their absolute permission to engage with the work.  It is never at the beginning, even with the most compliant of groups.  It marks the point where the collective desire to create something magical over rides any individual resistance and all that is needed from the workshop leader is to stand back, listen intently and gently steer from time to time.

The prisoners split into sub groups and began to choose jokes with characters and a narrative structure with the intention of dramatising them to show back at the end.  From that point, the session took off and the chapel rang with the sound of laughter and the enthusiastic appreciation of each other’s efforts.

When we showed back to each other, creating a stage area and an audience, the laughter was generous, the applause was genuine and it was clear that most of the prisoners had never received appreciation of this kind.  There were talented individuals in the group and those who had previously been invisible (a coping mechanism often used in prison) were now given recognition for their hidden talents.  More importantly though, those who were not natural performers were appreciated for their efforts because the group was in this together and wanted it to succeed.

As we were bringing the session to an end, one of the inmates began to bang on some bongos that were in the room.  The large, pumped up prisoner who had been so intimidating at the start of the session dismissing drama as “stupid kid games” bounded over in a state of excitement with wide eyes and a huge grin;

………………………..“Let’s play musical chairs!” He bellowed.



Philip Osment 25 November 2010

It all begins with our own childhoods.  Mine was spent on a farm in a remote rural area of England.  I was lonely, bored and had a growing sense that my sexuality meant that I didn’t fit in – I had a shameful secret which I would never be able to share.  The isolation that I felt was both geographical and psychological.  But then there was the school play: the sense of companionship, shared endeavour, achievement that came from those after-school rehearsals, which even the long ride home on late buses in the dark winter evenings could not dampen.  And as I learnt my lines in my freezing bedroom or repeated them to myself in the muddy fields, the words of Shakespeare came alive for me in a tangible way.  There was the joy of discovering that someone who lived four hundred years ago could express so beautifully my adolescent inner turmoil:

“But I have that within that passeth show,

These but the trappings and the suits of woe.”

And there were trips to the cinema and sometimes even to the theatre, there were visiting theatre companies who came to the school to perform such new works as Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter”:  enigmatic, ambiguous and inspiring, with its combination of banality and menace, experiences such as this gave me a vision of another world out there – a world of the imagination and of ideas.

I was lucky enough to escape my rural prison through education – I loved learning new languages and ended up studying French and German at Oxford University – but the sense of being different and not fitting in followed me.  I had a circle of friends who were loyal and close but there were some things I was not prepared to share even with them.  In the rarefied atmosphere of Oxford, there were people who were flamboyantly homosexual who exuded a seeming confidence that I found threatening and – I hesitate to use the word – repellent.  I came across them in the hothouse atmosphere of the Oxford University Dramatic Society where driven young people from privileged backgrounds and the odd ambitious grammar school boy vied for status and influence – they seemed to know already that they were future celebrities.  I was far too diffident to flourish in such an environment.

A couple of years in London followed where I tried to follow my dream of becoming an actor, eventually gaining a postgraduate place at a drama school.  There, I was in my element.  I had told a few select friends that I was gay but it was an aspect of myself that had to be concealed – I felt that I would never be allowed to play Romeo if a director discovered my sexuality!  At the same time I was beginning to understand that there were wider social and political implications to the whole issue – how could I fail to start to make connections between the plight of gay people and the position of women, Black people, working class people?  It was 1976 after all and the feminist and gay movements were gathering momentum.

But the connections I made remained theoretical until I left drama school in 1977.  It was my plan to pursue a career as a jobbing actor that would hopefully lead who knows where?  To repertory theate?  To the RSC?  To work in TV?  To Hollywood?  Then I saw an advert for actors for a new show by Gay Sweatshop – the first professional lesbian and gay theatre company in the UK.  Something stronger than the desire for fame and stardom must have been driving me as I auditioned for a part in AS TIME GOES BY, a play about gay history focussing on the Oscar Wilde trials in Victorian London; the fate of gay people in post Weimar Berlin and their incarceration in Concentration Camps; and the start of the modern gay movement with the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969.  This was theatre that the audience needed to see, it was telling a story that had been hidden from history, it showed a journey from shame and passive victimhood, to resistance and pride.  Audiences across the UK and in Europe gave us standing ovations and the play sparked debate and controversy wherever it was performed.  For many people – gay and heterosexual – the play challenged their perceptions of themselves and others, it gave them a sense that they were part of something bigger than themselves.  This was transformative theatre.

My work with Gay Sweatshop meant that I had to publicly embrace my sexual identity, that I had to come out to my family.  I entered into a long-term formative relationship with Noel Greig who was an inspiration and guide to many people in the alternative theatre movement who was my teacher, mentor, and lover.  I count myself lucky to have met people who have imparted riguour, methodology, vision and a demand for absolute authenticity in my work.  It hasn’t necessarily made the journey an easy one because it is frustrating when other professionals and critics don’t understand or value the process, but it has made it infinitely richer.

So I have a deeply-held belief that theatre can transform your life – because I know how it has transformed mine.  It transforms the participant and it transforms the audience member.

As yet, I have not received the call from Stephen Spielberg and I have never been to Hollywood (although I did translate a play by Cervantes for the RSC a couple of years ago).  I have had more than my fair share of success in mainstream theatre as an actor (early in my career) and later as a director and writer. But under the influence of Noel, I have followed where he lead, to work as well with companies such as Red Ladder and Theatre Centre, companies that take theatre into youth clubs, schools, venues that have a commitment to theatre for young people.  This work has been infinitely enriching for me as an artist because a well-made piece of theatre that is relevant to that audience has an impact that is tangible.

Recently I have become more and more interested in creating work with young emerging artists and have set up a company, Playing ON, to do just that.  I became involved with work at the National Youth Theatre where my colleague Jim Pope had set up a course for young people who have experience of homelessness, prison, probation, or who have dropped out of education.  For the past three years I have worked with a group of young men from that course to create a piece of theatre about young fathers in prison which has just had a run of sell-out performances at the Roundhouse Theatre in London.  I have watched our cast grow in skill and self esteem and become very impressive young men through engaging with the theatre process.  They are wonderful role models: one of them wrote in the programme that he wants to open doors that were closed to him, and to leave those doors open for young people behind him.  In our after-show discussion I have watched them inspire the young audiences with their articulacy and their authentic acting.  And so the process of transformation continues.  In one of these post show discussions I found myself telling the audience that the experience of working with this group has been one of the happiest of my life.

I don’t know what that tortured adolescent on that farm in Devon would make of it all.  He would very possibly have been terrified of those impressive young men and he may have felt he had nothing in common with them.  The older me knows better.  The older me has been transformed by theatre.


Segun Olaiya 31 May, 2012 (whilst visiting Afro-Reggae in the favelas of Rio with the Cultural Warriors programme)

My name is Segun it means to conquer. Where I’m from your name is your destiny, so being here, I feel is part of my destiny.

My body tells you part of my story; the scars are evidence of chasing my dreams the wrong way. Don’t pity me, I only ask, I be given the chance to prove I’m a decent person.

I’ve chosen to eat many bad things in my life, which at times left me empty. I now eat Brazil and taste love, power and the will to live and be happy. Thanks for sharing your food and your souls.

I’m passionate about my community, I will never stop trying to be part of or create something that provides opportunity and takes away some of the bad tastes in their lives.

I hope to be remembered for my good and forgiven for my bad choices. I will never forget what you’ve done for me and how you’ve fixed parts of my heart

My name is Segun and I am your Warrior


To read an article in The Stage about the origins of Playing ON go to the following link:


Contact Us

eMail: jim@playingon.org.Uk

Tel: 07812241882