Edward’s Boys swap the stage for the screen in BBC Four documentary

In an exciting new collaboration, Edward’s Boys have taken part in a BBC Four documentary on the shocking true story of children kidnapped from the streets of Elizabethan London to perform on the stage.

The documentary sheds light on the gripping tale of a child abducted from the streets of Elizabethan London, and how his father fought to get him back. Presented by acclaimed children’s author and academic, Katherine Rundell, this intriguing tale is set behind the scenes in the golden age of Shakespeare, and provides a glimpse into the lives of children long before they were thought to have rights. 

The snatching of Thomas Clifton had been organised by a theatrical impresario who intended to put him on the stage as part of a company of child actors who were enormously popular with the Elizabethan theatre-going public. He wasn’t the only boy lifted from the streets for this purpose; a whole host of others suffered a similar ordeal. It was a practice known as impressment – forced recruitment into public service – which meant that a child could be legally taken without his parents’ or his own consent.

The programme was filmed on location in London, including at Shakespeare’s Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and in locations closer to the home of Edward’s Boys – namely KES’s Guild Hall. 

Edward’s Boys appear in several scenes and perform excerpts from their recent work, as well as providing thoughtful contributions which draw on their own unique experience as boys’ company actors. Although Perry Mills’s recruiting methods differ somewhat from the forced abduction on which the documentary is based, Edward’s Boys provide a rare insight into the life of fledgling adolescent actors performing in often incendiary, politically charged plays.

The programme draws on the work of the BlackfriarsBoys and the men who wrote for child players such as Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton and John Lyly, but also has a poignant focus on the lives of boys thrust into this dangerous playworld. As presenter Katherine Rundell says: “as a novelist, writing books for children about the same age as the stolen boy – I find this story completely fascinating. It feels so fictional – so strange, so unlikely – so far from the Britain we inhabit. Yet this tale also resonates across time reflecting some of the deepest fears we still hold today.”

Abducted – Elizabeth I’s Child Actors will be aired on Monday 6th of August at 9pm on BBC Four.

With thanks to Wingspan Productions.

Kate Rundell, children’s author and All Soul’s academic, sits in the Guild Hall schoolroom.