Getting research into theatre – lockdown – and salvaging Credit

By Professor Suzanne Moffatt, Population & Health Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University UK

The early stages of lockdown were chaotic.  All of us making major adjustments to our lives, frontline workers struggling to get the equipment needed to do their jobs safely, millions working from home, our entire way of life disintegrating.  With the millions forced to move onto Universal Credit, came the wider realisation that this social security system is not fit for purpose.

Research in North East England published in 2019 led by Dr Mandy Cheetham of Teesside and Northumbria Universities (available to read on BMJ Open) demonstrated the ways in which Universal Credit undermines health and wellbeing and offers neither support nor adequate income.  Getting research findings to a wider audience is a key part of our work as academics. Partnering with theatre company Cap-a-Pie and award winning writer Laura Lindow was an ideal way to do this.  Supported by a series of grants from Newcastle University’s Institute of Social Science, Population & Health Sciences Institute and Catherine Cookson Fund, we developed the project into a fully fledged theatre piece.  Further funding from The National Lottery via Arts Council England and Gateshead Council meant the creative team could go ahead with a week’s further research, produce a script, rehearse the play and four live performances of ‘Credit’ were planned in April 2020.  Each performance had a brilliant post-show expert panel lined up for a discussion with the audience.  The shows sold out in days.

Dismantling our efforts at the start of lockdown was heartbreaking.  Not least because of the impact on the creative team and uncertainties about their future, but also because as a result of COVID-19, Universal Credit impacts on many more individuals and families.  Giving a voice to those affected is needed now more than ever.

Salvaging ‘Credit’ has been an incredible team effort and a huge accomplishment by the creative team. It’s been tricky at times to work out what could be safely achieved, but we’re going ahead in an altered format.  A slightly reduced, but nonetheless hard-hitting and moving script has been completed.  Actors Christina Dawson and Cooper McDonough are being directed by Brad McCormick, produced by Katy Vanden and will be filmed in the theatre performing a rehearsed reading.  Credit will be livestreamed on 16th September at 2pm and 7pm, each performance followed by a virtual live Q & A with an amazing expert panel including Patrick Butler Guardian Newspaper social affairs editor, Alice Wiseman Gateshead Council Director of Public Health, Alison Dunn Chief Executive Gateshead Citizens Advice Bureau, Clive Davis Welfare Rights Officer, Newcastle Council and Laura Lindow, writer.

Credit is an honest look at how Universal Credit can impact on people’s lives, told through the story of ‘Lisa’.  The play is based on the experiences of many people claiming Universal Credit as well as those supporting people caught up in the system, who helped shape the script.

I wasn’t surprised that the original theatre performances sold out in a matter of days.  There is now no limit to the number of people who can view the play.  I urge you to share information about Credit, view the performance and take part in the Q&A.  Help us to inspire people to think about the current state of our social security system, how it affects individuals, families, communities and diminishes our society as a whole and how it could be improved.  If the recent months have taught us anything, it’s that things can change, and change quickly.

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