Last night I went to the opening night of Alice, our Years 11- Upper Sixth school production. It was superb. I do not think I have both laughed and cried so much in a single production and left the theatre still tingling from the atmosphere created by our BGS and Bedford School teenagers.
The set design and costumes were striking and clever, even to the detail of the set changers wearing similar costume to the cast. The music and lighting were carefully choreographed to enhance the mood created by the actors, and the intelligent direction ensured the actors blended beautifully the absurdity of Lewis Carols Wonderland with the message of grief and loss that pervaded the whole play.
Grief is a difficult topic. At the recent GSA conference I was reminded that 70% of GSA schools, at any one time, will have a bereaved child or adult in their school, yet it is something we find difficult to talk about. Julia Samuel, a psychotherapist who specialises in paediatric counselling, highlighted the fundamental role schools played in supporting children and young adults through their bereavement. A school’s support is integral to helping them cope with their loss. We, therefore, must not sweep it under the carpet or shy away from talking about it for fear of upsetting the individual who is grieving. We need to be honest, we need to listen and not tell them how they should feel. We need to recognise that grief is a normal and healthy response to loss and we as teachers cannot fix it.
For me what resonated the most from Julia Samuels’s lecture was that grief is about mourning the loss of the relationship we had with that person. The black hole that people use to describe their feelings is the emptiness of their life without that relationship. Whilst we grow to accept that we will not see that person again, grieving is about recognising that the relationship we had still shapes us and is still part of us. We want markers in our life to celebrate it and we want to talk about that person to remember and celebrate that relationship. So whilst grief is about mourning the loss it is also about a process of restoration as we try to re-engage in the world holding onto the relationship without that person.
The production of Alice touched on all of these themes. Through Alice’s dream, she starts to understand her need to mourn the loss of her sister whilst trying to re-engage with the world without that important relationship in her life. The actors played the theme sensitively, honestly and powerfully. As someone who has recently experienced loss, I found the play cathartic and I felt very proud of the cast whose acting had helped me with my healing process.