Entertainment & Arts

Stars set for charity monologue show

Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Josh Hartnett Image copyright Getty Images/AP
Image caption Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Josh Hartnett and Chiwetel Ejiofor will all take part in the performance

A host of stars are to take part in a charity show this weekend, performing monologues dramatising the true stories of children growing up in South Africa.

Nicole Kidman, Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy and Josh Hartnett are among the cast of The Children's Monologues, directed by Danny Boyle.

Proceeds from the performance will go towards building a new arts centre in the Rammulotsi township.

The one-off show will be at the Royal Court in London on Sunday.

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It will also be performed simultaneously in South Africa by the children whose personal experiences are revealed on stage, in their native Sesotho language.

Other stars taking part in London include Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kit Harington, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Thewlis and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Image copyright Dramatic Need
Image caption Proceeds from the performance will be used to build a second arts centre in the Rammulotsi township

Humanising children

Playwrights from both South Africa and the UK - including David Hare and Laura Wade - have dramatised the true stories, which tackle issues such as HIV, gang rape, murder, the loss of a parent and xenophobia.

Amber Sainsbury, founder of the charity Dramatic Need, which has organised the monologues, began the project in 2010 as a way of giving a voice to children who may not otherwise be heard.

"One of the biggest battles we have is trying to get people to understand why in a continent with great needs you need the arts," she says.

"Surely food, water and medicine is more important, and in some parts it is - but in recovery and reconciliation, anything that humanises, particularly children, is actually in some cases as important.

"It's about testimony, standing witness to your stories and asking children to talk about what's happened to them in a way that's non-invasive.

"It's difficult for a nine-year-old child to say 'I was raped and I am HIV-positive' in front of her community, but it is easier for her to get up and say 'my name is such and such a character and this is what happened to me'.

"The community is then forced to recognise what happened, but they can't direct anger or stigma at the particular child and that's why theatre is a powerful tool in these communities."

Image copyright Dramatic Need
Image caption Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Gemma Arterton and Sir Ben Kingsley were among the stars who part in the 2010 Children's Monologues

However Sainsbury stresses the monologues are not all "doom and gloom".

"There's some very traumatic disturbing stuff that you never want a child to experience, but there's also some upbeat moments as well of childish joy and playfulness."

It is the second Children's Monologues production, the first was held in 2010 and was also directed by Boyle. That show featured the likes of Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne.

This time around, 17 actors, 13 writers, 17 artists, 10 musicians and three directors will come together for the first time on the morning of 25 October and have eight hours to rehearse before putting the show on.

"It's a logistical nightmare and a huge challenge, but there is a real immediacy to it and it's raw theatre," Sainsbury says.

"It's very hands on deck and I think that appeals to the actors to return to what attracted them to the vocation in the first place."

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Media captionHollywood star Josh Hartnett talks to the South African child author who has penned a monologue he plans to perform as part of a star studded charity performance

'I felt devastated'

Josh Hartnett has been involved with Dramatic Need for a number of years, but is the first time he has been available in London to take part in the monologue project.

"I'm sure Danny [Boyle] has an interesting approach to bring these monologues to life - it won't be as simple as getting on stage," he says.

"I'm reading a monologue of a little girl reading from her diary and telling her story about her mother, the relationship they had and the lessons her mother taught her. But you find out at the end her mother died of Aids, so she's writing in memoriam.

"At the beginning it seems like you're just hearing a little girl's adulation for her mother, but as it starts to come to light her mother is not there any more it takes a greater weight and by the end I felt devastated for her.

"I don't have the greatest relationship with my own mother, so it took me for a loop as it gave me a longing for that connection and made me evaluate that relationship."

Although The Children's Monologues is only on for one night, Sainsbury says the legacy of the project will continue.

"The actors are so busy we could never get them to donate a week of their time, but the plan is to take the scripts and roll them out across schools and libraries across the country so they can be used as a learning tool," she says.

"But the ultimate goal is making children empowered by the fact their stories matter and have value.

"It's important that we remain empathetic and don't forget that most children don't experience childhood in the way we would want them to - and I hope that resonates with the audience."

The Children's Monologues runs at the Royal Court on 25 October.

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