Jude Starbeam: communicating research through theatre

GOSH researchers who specialise in childhood brain injury helped shape a new play that tells the story of a little boy astronaut, Jude Starbeam, who gets lost in space.

The piece, which is aimed at 7-11 year olds and produced by OnTheButton theatre company, is inspired by the experiences of young people with brain injuries and their families.

The show, which was performed as a work-in-progress production this weekend at the Albany Theatre in Deptford, follows Jude and his sister, Major Nix, on their mission through space to find a mythical remote planet. When Jude’s spaceship crashes and he experiences a brain injury Nix must search the universe to find him and help him adapt to his brain injury to ensure they can fly home.

The play aims to get young people excited about medical research and to encourage the audience to think about how they can support people with brain injuries, and was also accompanied by an interactive family workshop which explores how the brain works and what life is like for children who have experienced brain injury.

The new production was shaped by researchers specialising in traumatic brain injury in children, Dr Frederique Liegeois, Lecturer in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) and expert in communication disorders that result from brain injury and Dr Rachael Elward, Research Associate at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) whose research focusses on how to support people with brain injury through their education.

Drs Liegeois and Elward, along with researchers from the London Brain Project, fed into the development of the play and interactive workshop by sharing their latest research into childhood brain injury and their experience of working with a diverse range of families. Dr Adam Kuczynski and Dr Celia Demarchi, both clinical psychologists at GOSH also contributed to project by sharing their expert knowledge on the psychological impacts of brain injury in children. To help the audience gain an accurate understanding of the condition, the final workshop included games similar to those used by GOSH researchers to test the memory of patients with brain injury. The researchers were also able to offer a scientific insight into brain injury and help ensure the play accurately portrays the issues that families with this chronic illness face.

Oceiah, a member of the GOSH Young Persons Advisory Group (YPAG) also attended the play to give feedback.

"I really enjoyed seeing Jude Starbeam at the Albany Theatre. I especially thought the visual effects, computer, shadow puppets, film and lighting were effective. I also thought the actors were good and Sophie's singing was amazing. It was really great meeting the Director Ben, Sophie (Major Nix) and the person whom helped the story with his own life experience of brain injury. I talked about the things I really liked about their production and the things that could make it better. I hope to be involved again and see the final piece with some of my ideas included in it!"

The development of the play and workshop was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) as part of its ongoing commitment to patient and public engagement in research and ambition to encourage conversations between patients, the public and GOSH researchers.

Photo: Maxim Gamble