Sunday Sessions: A Man with Five Children

Hey, so I’ve been a bit absent lately, I was exhausted and then I was overseas so I am back with an awesome play for you guys.

Year 12 only have 6 more weeks until they graduate and need to sit their HSC. This is my first year 12 that I have taken through from year 11 all the way to the end. It is an emotional time, seeing the kids grow and be annoying in your class everyday for 2 years, and then having to say goodbye, almost certain you’ll never see most of them again. So for the final module of their HSC I wanted to do a cracker of a text, this came to me in the form of the play by Nick Enright, A Man with Five Children.

This play is based loosely on the concept of Seven Up, a British documentary that followed the lives of 7 children from very different backgrounds as they grew and changed. A Man with Five Children follows the lives of Gerry Hilferty and five Australian children who he films for one day a year every year from the age of 7 until 35. However, what we see is not only does Gerry film them for one day a year but he becomes extremely involved in each of their lives, some in a positive way, some in a negative way, but ultimately there are major consequences for these children as they become adults.

The play is under the Elective: The Global Village, where we look at the way technology now connects the entire world, and we no longer have to feel disconnected from people and cultures on the other side of the globe. The play focuses mainly on the way being part of the global village can have a negative impact on our lives, in particular these kids lives as they are being shown to the whole nation. They are asked when they are seven what they want from their lives, this then sets the expectation of Gerry, and the audience, that these kids, who are seven years old will live up to those expectations. When they find themselves unable to do that, things go bad.

As we sat down to read it in class, I made a reading circle with our chairs and the students took on different roles. We had five key students to play the five children, all of whom almost assumed their characters while they were reading them. Some of these students are often very loud, but if their character was a quiet one, they became quiet, reserved and withdrawn throughout the reading of the play. It was amazing to watch. They all voted that I had to play Gerry, as I was the “adult” in the room, (keep in mind, I am only 6 years older than these students). The play is quite confronting, there is a lot of swearing and some pretty heavy themes, but this made it all the more appealing to the students, mainly because they felt like they were being given a text to read which didn’t baby them, didn’t assume they couldn’t handle adult themes.

We are still studying the play, and like The Simple Gift, which these students studied at the beginning of year 12, they are understanding A Man with Five Children extremely well, they can recall whole lines from the play, only having read it once, and are also able to recall who is who in a very wordy play, mainly thanks to them remembering which student played that particular character. The like to understand how technology is affecting our lives, their lives and what it means to have access to things like the internet. The children in the play are all from different backgrounds, as are most of the students in my year 12 class, this relevance has also worked wonders for the students as we learn about how important it is to be not only aware of the different cultures but to be open to learning more about the different cultures in our school, and how easily we can do this being part of the global village.

It is a great play with great twists and turns, and I highly recommend it. If anyone gets a chance to go and see it, I’m sure it would be amazing, and please let me know if you have heard of any productions of A Man with Five Children in Sydney, I would love to go and see it myself.

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