Last year they did Bugsy Malone for their end of year show.

But this time, Year Six of Billesley Primary School is tackling something much more challenging – the Cuban Missile Crisis.

That’s quite a leap for a bunch of 11-year-olds. What do they know of the 1962 drama on which the world teetered on the brink of nuclear disaster?

Nothing, they admit, before Stan’s Cafe got involved.

The innovative Birmingham theatre company have come into Billesley to help them stage Any Fool Can Start A War, which will be performed in public at the mac in Cannon Hill Park next week.

Sitting in on the first full run-through, it is clear this is a no ordinary school production, but it is one which fully represents the multicultural nature of the pupils.

John F Kennedy is a girl with a Brummie accent, a top-knot and glasses. Fidel Castro is a black boy who is very much looking forward to wearing a beard.

The Soviet ambassador wears a turban, while Nikita Krushchev is played by a boy called Rumman Islam.

They are being put through their paces by Craig Stephens and James Yarker from Stan’s Cafe.

James, who founded the company in 1991, says: “This is our second year working with Billesley Primary, who were one of several schools who applied to us.

“At the time they were a struggling school which hadn’t had much artistic impact, though the new head teacher had been supportive of the arts in her previous school.

“I felt we could make the most difference here.

“We began last year, helping them with what they had chosen to put on, Bugsy Malone.

“But this year we wanted to so something that would really stretch them and us as a theatre company. We hadn’t done anything that really scared us, but believe me, this is scary!

“We’re working with 60 11-year-olds, devising a show with very complicated subject matter.

“It’s exactly the kind of project Stan’s Cafe are here to do – if the idea of making the show isn’t terrifying, it’s not worth making.

“Billesley must be one of the most adventurous primary schools in the country. They want learning in their school to be exciting and creative.

“So far we’ve managed to stretch the staff and pupils a lot. This is putting us under a lot of pressure.

Kids from Billesley Primary School practise their play that dramatises the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960's.
Kids from Billesley Primary School practise their play that dramatises the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960's.
 

“We’ve tried to be as bold as possible. I think you have to raise the stakes very high if you want to win big, and this could be fantastic.”

It’s an original work, with a script that has had some suggestions from the pupils.

“The students had studied World War Two so they knew what led up to the Cuban Missile Crisis,” explains James.

“Craig and I acted it out for them to show them what a dramatic piece of history it is.

“I like the idea of 11-year-olds pretending to be massive world leaders. They are working with a very grown-up subject matter, but there’s still a sense of a playground fight – who will back off first?

“They are finding it an interesting period. There’s a scene where the Americans try to assassinate Castro and we asked them for their ideas. They couldn’t make up anything as bizarre as some of the real historical methods, such as an exploding cigar.”

As the rehearsal continues, Fidel, aka Dejaun Whitelock, bangs his fist on the table as he says: “In the defence of freedom, all sacrifices are noble.”

He’s very charismatic and James confides: “You would follow our Castro into a revolution.”

Dejaun declares: “I like Castro, he’s quite stern but a good leader I think. I’m impressed with the story, it’s exciting.

“I haven’t done much acting before but I do have a very loud voice.”

Shannon Randall, aka JFK, says: “I hadn’t heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis before we started this. I was very confused at first, but then I understood what was going on and realised what we were doing is amazing.”

The transport of nuclear warheads to Cuba is conveyed through cardboard boats and submarines moving across the stage.

There are also U2 spy planes, flying on sticks.

This is a play with songs and I hear the Americans (all played by girls) sing “Don’t give up now Kennedy, don’t press the button”.

James says: “The whole of Year Six is involved, everyone has a part and gets to say something. It’s tough, though, to get them to speak up so they can be heard.

“We are dealing with a huge range of abilities. Some of the students are absolutely fabulous, but you can’t give them all the lines!

“One challenge is that, as it’s the end of term, we are constantly losing kids for sports days and trips.”

They thought they might lose their leading lady after Shannon fell over and hit her head. She has a large bump on her forehead but is carrying on like a trooper. After all, she has to save the world by teatime.

The crisis is the moment in which the Cold War came closest to turning into a nuclear conflict, after the Soviets armed missile sites in Cuba and a tense stand-off developed.

Any Fool Can Start A War will be performed twice at mac, with an audience of the rest of the school, parents and the paying public.

While this is one of Stan’s Cafe most challenging projects, they don’t go in for run-of-the-mill productions.

Described as “one of the UK’s most tirelessly inventive theatre companies”, their work includes Canute The King, premiered in Moseley Road Swimming Baths.

It’s Your Film, seen by only one spectator at a time in an photo booth, has toured 37 cities in 15 countries.

Space Station was staged on the Birmingham-Wolverhampton Metro, as three astronauts appeared on a new platform trying to catch a train to the planets.

In 2009 24 Hour Scalextric saw audience and actors racing slot cars round a vast track for 24 hours to coincide with Le Mans, while two commentators gave a live webcast description.

They also commentated on opening days of the Library of Birmingham.

* Any Fool Can Start A War will be performed at mac on July 16 and 17. For tickets, ring 0121 446 3232 or go to www.macbirmingham.co.uk .