Spies in Schools

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Weston-super-Mare school children save the town!

Over the course of the last year, theatre artists Nigel Barrett & Louise Mari have been visiting the eight Weston primary schools of the Extend Learning Academies Network. They’ve appeared as scientific researchers, private investigators, undercover dinner ladies and corrupt police officers…

More than 450 nine and ten-year-olds have worked with Nigel & Louise to stage performances in playgrounds, create games in classrooms, and explore the power of their imagination.

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The children demonstrated a huge enthusiasm for spy stories and undercover adventures – they revelled in puzzles and riddles, and showed great sensitivity in imagining what it would feel like to be someone else. Each child and teacher created a secret identity – complete with profession, ID card, fake signature, and elaborate backstory.

This summer, Nigel & Louise worked with Terrestrial to create a huge performance event, conjured from the children’s ideas and characters.

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The Raven is the most notorious villain in Weston-super-Mare. Agents Cluck & Babbington (Nigel & Louise) had been trying for ages to bring this dark force to justice, with no luck. But now they had a brilliant group of new undercover agents. Through a series of video messages sent to classrooms, they explained that the Raven was planning a big birthday party with all his nasty associates – and they had managed to sneak the children’s secret identities onto the guest list. This was the perfect moment to infiltrate the criminal underworld, and foil the Raven’s plot.

In the days running up to the party, each of the 15 classes received a surprise visitor from a representative of Corvus: a local water company. He tested the children’s bottles and classroom taps. Many of the children thought there was something a bit suspicious about him…

500 children and members of school staff received a personalised invitation, each with a secret code built into it. On the morning of the party, undercover agents arrived at the eight schools to help the children create their own costumes. Eight teams of disguised partygoers then marched through Weston to the seafront.

They arrived at Tropicana to find it transformed into a decadent disco, with a huge festival-style DJ set-up and cabaret performers hosting the action.

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Just when it was starting to feel like a joyous celebration, the Raven’s evil henchmen announced that they had captured all of the schools’ headteachers, along with agents Cluck and Babbington. The only way to save them was to solve a series of increasingly difficult challenges in just 30 minutes. The children set to work, solving riddles, digging clues from the beach, and piecing together the answers to a complex code.

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With just seconds to spare, the final puzzle was solved, the coded door released, and the teachers were saved. Defeated, the Raven revealed his true identity… the Corvus water engineer! He’d been planning to poison Weston through its water supply. Cluck & Babbington escorted him away in the back of the beach rangers’ truck as the celebration exploded out onto the beach. Weston is safe thanks to the skill, energy and creative thinking of its children.

Spy Day 

Stars: Children & Staff from the Extend Learning Acadamies Network (Bournville, Meadvale, Mendip Green, Milton Park, Locking, Oldmixon, Walliscote & Windwhistle Primary Schools).

Directors / Agents Cluck & Babbington: Nigel Barrett & Louise Mari
Designer:  Amy Pitt
DJ/Filmmaker: Dominic Dowbekin
Cabaret Hosts:  In Bed With My Brother
Raven:  George Williams
Photography: Paul Blakemore
Local Agents:  Karen Blake, Lin Toulcher, Janine Starr, Pete Goodrum, Caz Llewellyn, Linda Chan, Ade Bowen, Gwen Dumpleton, Gary Bressington, Nur Ray, Kate Yedigaroff, Julie Peel, Becky Condron, Jordan Cottle, Jess Hicks, Jack Stringer.

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Project images by Paul Blakemore.