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What's On, Culture

CODE: Coming to Oxford


The phone vibrates…a message…times, numbers, deals…and a warning. All in code. So young and so troubled. At home, in school, on the street. There’s no way out - is there?

Told with the energy and excitement of athletic choreography, and incorporating mesmerising bike stunts performed on a specially constructed outdoor set, CODE tells the story of how drug dealers are using children to operate their trade, under our noses, within our communities, outside our knowledge. This is a new show from physical theatre/dance company Justice in Motion, a company fast establishing itself at the forefront of creating large scale physical theatre, focussed on tackling vital contemporary social issues.

CODE will be performed outdoors on Oxford Broad Street on 19th August at 12pm and 3pm, and at Barton Neighbourhood Centre, Headington on 20th August at 2pm and 5pm. All performances are free to attend.

Across the country, newspapers are reporting the drug trading of criminal gangs in both urban and rural areas. This practice is called ‘County Lines’ in reference to the mobile phones used to organise illegal drug orders and deliveries across local authority boundaries. The work has been created to reveal the plight of vulnerable, exploited teenagers (and sometimes even younger children) who are lured and coerced into becoming part of this underground industry.

CODE combines highly physical parkour athletes, stunt bike riders, and theatre performers, to tell a gripping story hidden in the shadows of everyday life. The narrative is all pulled together and performed by popular Sheffield-based artist, rapper, and actor Marcus ‘Matic Mouth’ Smith, whose lyrics explore the insight of someone with personal experience of the themes of the show. The young protagonist ‘Nicky’ will be played by 14-year-old Esra Marmet in his very first professional acting role.

The energetic, breath-taking, pulsing, visually stimulating performances tell an unforgettable tale of one young person who falls prey to a gang. Groomed with gifts and coerced with threats, their victim takes on the dangerous business of drug running. The result is a visually stunning, breath-taking, and mesmerising piece of theatre.

Since the government County Lines Programme launched in 2019, 3,500+ county lines have been closed, 10,200+ people have been arrested, 5,700+ individuals have been referred by police to safeguarding. In the last year alone, 1,000+ lines have been closed and the government aims close a further 2,000 lines by March 2025. But the battle is far from won, and young people are still at considerable risk.

The debut tour of CODE raises awareness by helping to demonstrate tell-tale signs of this youth exploitation helping their friends, families, carers and educators to spot where they may be a problem. In some of the touring locations, Justice in Motion will run a youth engagement programme, working with at risk and affected young peopleto explore the impact of county lines and knife crime. Together, they will study the themes of the show creatively, and learn skills in parkour, movement, and theatre-making. The young people will be given the opportunity to create small bespoke moments within the show, and perform these alongside the professional cast.

CODE has been made possible thanks to public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and support from 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Space, Oxford City Council and Transend Skatepark.


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