London’s Unicorn Theatre has established a partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital to create work for children and young people receiving treatment there.
It is part of a wider plan from the Unicorn’s artistic director Justin Audibert to take performance-led projects to children’s hospitals across the UK, which he hopes will be rolled out from next year.
The theatre’s work in hospitals is “all about empowering the patient” and about bringing the Unicorn experience into the wards, Audibert said.
This will comprise adapting Unicorn productions for a hospital environment as well as developing new pieces of work with organisations such as Great Ormond Street’s arts team, GOSH Arts.
Under the new collaboration, the first project in the central London hospital was a specially adapted version of the Unicorn’s 2019 retelling of Aesop’s Fables.
It used binaural sound recordings of the stories, a method that Audibert said resulted in “a much more theatrical way of listening to something”.
“If an aeroplane goes overhead [within the recording] you can here it go from your right ear across your head to your left ear, so it’s much more theatrical and all-encompassing.”
A facilitator, the actor Ayesha Casely-Hayford, took the recordings into the hospital’s wards earlier this month, working alongside the GOSH Arts team.
Great Ormond Street’s head of arts Susie Hall described the two organisations as having “incredible synergy” in their commitment to children and young people.
She said there had been a historic perception that theatre was difficult to present in hospitals, with visual arts and music more easily adaptable for the environment. However, she said Great Ormond Street had begun to explore more collaborations with theatre companies like the Unicorn “to bring that cultural entitlement to the hospital”.
“Children and young people shouldn’t miss out just because they are sick or in hospital, and neither should their families,” she said.
“Family theatre is about a family experience, and when you do that together in hospital it can be really special, because you can be having a really tough time, so it is nice to have an experience as a family that you can talk about and remember.”
As the partnership develops, the Unicorn will bring more of its programmed work into Great Ormond Street. Hall said the hospital would also play a bigger role in creating its own cultural experiences.
“We really want to programme the highest-quality arts and culture for the hospital, not just think that it doesn’t need to be as exciting as the stuff that’s happening [outside the hospital],” she said, adding that team would be involved in producing as well as hosting that of other companies.
The Unicorn’s work with Great Ormond Street is being developed as part of the theatre’s community programme, REACH, which plans to take productions into other children’s hospitals in the UK.
Audibert described binaural sound as “a really good model” to take forward for future projects, adding that he hoped to adapt some of the shows in the Unicorn’s current season for hospitals next year.