Mister Shapeshifter is an exciting, very contemporary fairy tale for 10 – 11 year olds about the ways some adults abuse childrens’ trust and how they can protect themselves. This interactive theatre production can make a significant contribution to keeping young children safe from child sex abuse.

Mister Shapeshifter is aimed at year 6 children. It’s purpose is to entertain, inform, and safeguard children against risk and danger in real life and online and to provide a catalyst for further work by teachers and other adults with the children who see it. It is not meant to stand alone: preparation before the play and follow work is essential. The play is specifically designed to educate and empower children, but could also be used to raise awareness with parents, carers, families in the wider community.

Mister Shapeshifter is a super villain. He can change his appearance at will. He has one aim in life: to lure children into his ‘Super Story World Studio Workshop’ and steal the childhood out of them so he can live forever. When he lures eleven year old Jess there, only Jack can save her. But Jack is one of Mister Shapeshifter’s previous victims, and as a result is bullied and lonely and angry. To save Jess, Jack has first to save himself and then bring The Shapeshifter to justice, with the help of Jess, the audience, his teacher and the police.

Mr Shapeshifter

Mr Shapeshifter

These issues are very sensitive and complex, and children will have had different experiences and have very different levels of awareness and knowledge. In recognition of this the play is deliberately intended to be understood and used by teachers and other adults in at least three different ways.

  1. As a modern fairy tale about story telling in which two kids defeat an evil ‘super villain’
  2. As a play about power and control; specifically about how some adults abuse their power and the trust children place in them. It is also, perhaps more importantly, about how children might detect when that is happening, and thus protect themselves. It’s also about knowing who to trust when you need help.
  3. As an extended metaphor for child sexual abuse (CSE) and therefore like (2) above it’s about how children might detect when it is happening, and thus protect themselves and also about knowing who to trust when you need help.

The abuse in the play is not named or described – except of course in the metaphor of ‘stealing away childhood’ nor does the word ‘sex’ appear anywhere in it. This is deliberate. We feel that individual teachers know their children and parents best and are therefore best able to judge at what level to pitch follow-up work. The play can work as 1) without 2) or 3). Or as 2 without 3 and so on. The choice and the judgement, is the teacher’s. There are not 3 versions of the play – just 1 consistent version allowing teachers the above scope as appropriate.

We enable children to engage directly with the issues by bringing them into the play to help the characters make key decisions and thus propel the story forward. All performances are followed by hot-seating sessions in which characters from the play return to be quizzed by the audience about their decisions and behaviour. The play is supported by specially written pre an post-performance lesson outlines with built-in evaluation. Further support is provided by animated and book versions of the play.

GW Theatre has the capacity and experience to work closely with schools, local authorities and key safe-guarding professionals to plan and lead highly effective work which meets the urgent need to tackle these sensitive and complex issues with children, their families and the wider community.

Mister Shapeshifter is based partly on research with appropriate professionals and children and was specially commissioned from GW Theatre by six local authorities (Oldham, Rochdale, Oxfordshire, Calderdale, South Tyneside and Bradford) after the success of Somebody’s Sister, Somebody’s Daughter a show about CSE aimed at older children which has been touring nationally to schools, community centres and conferences for the last two years. The urgent need for a play aimed at younger children occurs because children as young as 11 and younger are targeted by abusers.

Here’s what schools have been saying about the play….

‘I think it was very well done. I understand that it is an incredibly difficult subject to get across to children. It is a fine balance between scaring them senseless and not getting any message across. The theatre company managed this perfectly’

Castleton Primary [Parent and Chair of Governors], Rochdale

‘The play had a positive impact on the staff and the children. It was valuable for the children to take part in the play and help advise the characters how they could solve problems/issues related to today and their future. Hot-seating was a super opportunity for the children to ask some very thoughtful questions. They really enjoyed the production it made them laugh, think and reflect on some challenging issues that should be given more priority and time in school. Highlights were the simplicity and power of the performance’

Alexandra Park Primary, Oldham

‘Led to good discussion in the classroom. The children said they’d be much more confident about telling somebody about any issues that arose. Very mature responses. It showed us how abuse can change how a child acts. Made us think and understand more’

Moorhouse Primary, Rochdale

‘The children responded positively it really made them think and consider the actions that they take. There was a point when the play became quite ‘dark’ but the script and the actors were able to use this feeling to emphasis the central message about ‘if it feels wrong and weird…’ The contrast of light and dark within the play – the pace and characterisations were very appropriate. The script dealt with a difficult subject well. I think it was good that the children completed preparation work in advance and then the post play survey. This meant the children did not just see the play an entertainment. The hot seating supported this too’

Airedale Primary, Wakefield

‘Thought provoking – encouraged children to continue discussion & open up about any worries and concerns’

St. John Fisher RC Primary, Rochdale

‘The play had a very important message. Following the performance, the children shared that they had a very positive experience and really enjoyed the show – they found Mister Shapeshifter quite creepy and in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. They went on to discuss that this may be the feelings they would feel if someone was asking them to do something they did not want to’

Ridgeway Primary, South Tyneside.

‘The play had exactly the required impact on the children. There were lots of thoughtful comments and questions raised from the children during our post play discussion. They thoroughly understood the message of the play and talked in-depth about the ‘tools’ they have in their power to protect themselves. Two days later, a girl in my class saw another girl crying in the playground. As she was about to go and check on her, another girl (quite aggressively) ordered her not to go over to the girl who was upset. When I spoke to her later, she said that ‘it had not felt right to be ordered about. She knew the girl who was upset would need her support. She felt that, like in the play, she should listen to herself, and what she felt was right.’ As a result, she refused to be told what to and went over to check on the girl. She said she felt better for trusting herself and having not allowed someone to order her about’

Lower Place Primary, Rochdale

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