Play Dough Arc Residency

For the last day of my residency I’m sitting in my little room in Arc, Stockton-upon-Tees. In an hour I will go and watch Hannah Nicklin @hannahnicklin rehearse her punk songs of the streets of Stockton. There is someone smoking below my room and the delicious smell of tobacco wafts in and out on the cool breeze. It’s a very sunny day in Stockton today and although I have given up smoking this reminds me how much I love it and how it makes me sick at the same time. No doubt, there’s a metaphor in there about money… but I’m going to just let it be for now.

While waiting for @hannahnicklin, I have been doing some reading at and the Bank of England website because I am here to write Play Dough which is a re-imagining of Money The Game Show but for 7 – 11 year olds. Every day this week I have written a new scene for the show and developed a workshop for some 7-11 year olds about money. Today I’m mostly chewing over the experience of leading those workshops and wondering how to squeeze all the things that I think are really interesting and exciting and upsetting about money into a 60 minute show with lots of games and 10,000 real pound coins. 5000 pennies were on the floor of my workshops this week and that caused plenty of giddiness.

In Unlimited HQ (our office at the West Yorkshire Playhouse) and on the phone to Jon) there has been a great deal of thinking about what the age of an audience should be for a show about ‘What money is” and “how we might make it better”. Two weeks ago I was struggling because I was writing for 11-14 year olds. It was so hard to imagine how that would really be different than for adults, apart from possibly some of the swear words. I feel like the world of finance is a ‘grown up’ world, certainly a distant and esoteric world, so it feels great to be finding ways of writing a show for a young audience. Now that I’m focusing on 7-11 it feels much-much better. I feel much clearer why it’s a show for them.

To help with the clarity of who that audience is, what they already know and even more importantly what and how they feel about money, I ran two workshops yesterday with a group of ten 10-11 year old boys and girls in a Stockton school and then in the evening a session with eight, very lively, 9-12 year old boys.

The headline is that the children absolutely loved the workshops. They loved the games and they loved the discussion. I’m going to put my workshop plan at the bottom of this blog fyi. But they were truly-truly engaged with the questions about what money is. The surprisingly successful ‘game’ which I thought was more of a warm up when I was planning it was: write in 3 minutes all the words that you think of when you think of money. Then, when they had a big stack of cards, each with a different word, they played ‘snap’ to see how many things they had in common. Highlights from the discussion that came out of this were that:

‘Wonga’ means money and is a loans company on the TV. A loan is when you borrow money to buy something you want.

A feeling word about money is “mint” but they didn’t know that ‘a mint’ is where money is made. It just feels ‘mint’ when you’ve got money. So now those ten year olds know a new word for ‘loaded’, which is ‘minted’.

Some of the things I found myself saying which are not in my workshop plan:

“I love the expression, ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’, who has heard that? Does your mum say it? Yes. My parents used to say it to me as well. What does it mean? Yes. It means that money isn’t just easy. You can’t pick it off a tree. Yes. That’s right. It’s not free. You have to earn it. That’s a very interesting distinction Oli. (All names have been changed and to be more accurate…forgotten.) So yes. Money isn’t everywhere, like the leaves on the trees. But you know there’s another thing that I think that expression means. Leaves on trees are green. Yes. Simon. And yes. Green is a word for money. Like dough. Yes. Play Dough is about money. That’s right. Dough, Green, dosh, wonga. All fun words for money.

The thing about the green leaves on trees not being money though is this. Money isn’t growing in nature is it? It’s something that we make.

Emma. No. Mud couldn’t be money. Could it? But actually the very first money was a kind of mud. Did you know that if you go the British Museam you can see the first money that was made 5000 years ago. How do you think you make money out of mud?

That’s so cleaver of you Issie! Yes. You could press something into it, like a shape and then that would show that it was money. Did you just work that out? Brilliant! So yes. The first writing ever was an ‘IOU’ written on a clay tablet, about the size of your palm and I think it was a picture of a goat, because someone owed someone a goat. But then if I owed you a goat and your owed Sami a goat you could give them that tablet of clay and then I would owe Sami the goat instead, or something else that was the same value as a goat and then it’s money. Amazing.

So, when we say ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’ we mean that we make money. It isn’t something that’s given to us.

Gold does come out of the ground. That’s true Nick. But we still have to decide to use it as money. We still have to turn it into money.

Simon. Yes you are right. Trees do make paper and we do make paper money. So yes. In that respect you could say that money does grow on trees, or perhaps out of trees. But we still have to make it. So I’m still right.

Now who wants to make a ‘long bet’ that the ‘dosh’ team can beat KFC blowing up a balloon?”


“I’ve got another expression for you: ‘The streets of London are paved with gold.’ Do you think that’s true? No. Well. You’re right. The streets of London aren’t made of gold. But there is a company that sweeps up all the dirt from the streets of cities in the UK and filters out microscopic bits of precious metals from all that dirt. So in a way the streets are paved with gold!”

See Birmingham University scientist Angela Murray whose project Roads to Riches mines road dust for precious metals and listen to Forum: A world of ideas: Modern Alchemists (available until 24th Feb) for more about extracting gold from dust.

All the games worked I think because there was the mystery prize at the end. The winning team would not only win that prize but also find out what it was, which seemed in itself the main prize. In school they got stickers and balloons and out of school they got chocolates. One team shared and another team of winners didn’t.

Finally, one of the things that I was really interested in and also a bit wary of exploring with the children was how they would think about ‘shorting’. The practice of making a bet that something would go down in value, which usually means that something bad has happened to someone or a group of people.

I was very careful not to put any ideas into their heads. So I asked two questions and just listened to them discuss their responses. The first was “what bad things might happen that you could bet on?” and the second was ‘Do you think it is ok to bet that something bad will happen?”

Both groups were very clear that it was only ok to make a bet that something was going to go wrong if you were betting that it would happen to you. You can’t make money from other people being sick they said.

What if you used that money to help them.

It’s still wrong. No. No way. (etc etc)

Also, they were really clear that making fake money is stealing from shopkeepers.

After a bit of prompting and on the proviso that I was clever enough to make the most amazing fake money ever, then it would be stealing from everyone.

So. I definitely feel like I’ve met my audience now. I’d like to do many more workshops like this.

Finally, one of the exercises that I didn’t get very much time to explore was the ladder of importance made up of the things that are the most important to them. Two things that came out of this that have really stuck with me today.

Everyone in the evening session said Food, which made me think of the characters in the play and how they meet at a food bank for the first time. As I wrote that scene on Tuesday, I wrote Queenie: I’m hungry. And I knew that that is the heart of the story. There are so many more hungry kids in the UK after the financial crisis.

The second thing was that both groups brought up the question of slavery. Defining it as when you are not paid for work. I wonder if and how that is something that I will be able to touch on in this show?



Workshops for Play Dough at Arc

 75 mins


  • For the children to have a fun and explore what they think about money
  • To see what different age groups and backgrounds think about money what is, what is valuable and how we measure that.


 As they arrive give everyone a name label. Do they want a game name instead/as well?


This workshop is all about money and what you think is valuable or important.

Have any of you heard of ‘the financial crisis’?

What have you heard? Very interesting!

1. First get into two teams: What do you think about competitive games? Do you like them? Why/why not? If I put you into two teams you can play for a secret prize (Box of Heroes/stickers/ balloons) you can decide as team if you want to share it with the others at the end.

2. How many pennies do you think there are in that pile? Closest right answer gets a golden note. 5000. How many pounds is that? 100 pennies in a pound. £50. (gets another golden note)

5 mins

3. I’m going to blow a bubble and you’re going to see how many your team can count while that bubble is in the air. Do it again with them keeping the bubble in the air. Who has counted the most pennies?
So. I can swap you a golden note for those pennies each golden note is worth 20 pennies. The team with the most golden notes wins the prize.

10 mins

4. What do you think money is? Write down on post-its as many different words that you think of when you think about money. Map and share.

 20 mins.

 5. What is the difference between a golden note and a £20 pound note?

Not real. What makes it real? What gives it value?

Numbers. Pictures. Bank that issues it.

So the value of a £20 note could disappear if the bank disappeared?

So we trust that the bank will always be there, to give it value.

What does a bank do? We lend them our money to look after and we can borrow money from them to buy things.

On a dollar bill it says “In God We Trust”. Why do you think they write that on their money? What would you write on your money?

Can you use this £20 note in another country?

Difference between a Scottish note and an English one?

Show a pound: What about if these pounds were made from real gold would that change how valuable they are? Sometimes money is valued in relation to gold. But sometimes like at the moment money is only worth what we all agree it is worth.

25 mins

6. Special skills. In two groups decide who has got the most special skill that they are willing to bet the other team don’t have. Then decide how much you are going to bet. Play again if they like it. Golden note for each win.
Tally up who is winning.

30-35 mins

When a bank lends us money it’s like a bet. The bank bets that we will pay back the money it has lent us.

7. Going long. There are different types of bets. Long bets and short bets. A long bet is when someone thinks something is going to go up in value. So for example if a bank bets you will pay back money you borrow plus extra for the chance of borrowing it, which is called interest. It’s called Long because it takes a long time sometimes 20 or 25 years and because it’s betting that the value of something is going to get bigger.

Lets do a long bet but with balloons: Two volunteers blow up a big balloon. Whose is the biggest in 30 seconds? Bet how much that your team is going to win.

Tally up the winning team so far.

40-45 mins

8. What things do you value most? Write a list on strips of card and make a ladder of importance of these things.

Discuss: how do you decide what is more important than something else?

60 mins

9. Going short: There is another kind of bet you can make. It’s called a short bet. It doesn’t take as long and it’s a bet that something will go wrong. It might be a bet that you won’t be able to pay back that loan, or that the price of something will go down.

Play shorting game: Two more volunteers try to burst a balloon. Who will be the first to burst it? Play a couple of times if they like it.

65 mins

 What things could you bet on that would go down in value or go wrong?

Do you think you should bet on things going wrong?

If not why not?

[Insurance: do you know what insurance is? It’s when you take a bet that something bad will happen to you. But you hope it’s not going to happen. So you might bet that you’ll get sick so that if you do there is enough money for you to take some time off work and still have enough money to pay your rent and buy food. But what if you took a bet that someone else was going to get sick? ]

70 mins

So who has won?

75 mins

If there is time after…

So the last thing I want to do is tell you a very short explanation about what happened in the financial crisis of 2008 and then you can ask me questions about it. Ok?

Once upon a time…

In 2008 nearly all the banks in the world got very scared that they weren’t ever going to get the money back they had lent to each other. So they stopped lending any more money to each other. And when that happened some banks didn’t have enough money to keep paying their debts and they nearly stopped working at all. This caused a huge chain reaction, like one domino hitting another one, because everyone’s money is lent to everyone else all over the world. So that meant that the whole world nearly stopped trusting the money we use every day.