As Danny Boyle showed with his superb direction of the Olympics opening ceremony, art can be at its most compelling when used to convey a message of social progress. The use of mainstream entertainment to make careful observations about society is a well-travelled path; but, like Boyle, it appears that a group of British actors have managed to do something new.
This Friday night at 9pm, four stars of Coronation Street will appear in Corrie Goes to Kenya, the first of two documentaries on ITV1. The programmes follow Sue Cleaver, Ryan Thomas, Brooke Vincent and Ben Price as they visit Mombasa, where they will use their thespian skills to challenge the misconceptions around HIV/AIDS.
Working with local actors and the UK charity S.A.F.E., whose patron is Daniel Craig - the current James Bond - the Coronation Street stars will write and perform a series of open-air shows about the disease, which is responsible for the deaths of approximately 70,000 Kenyans each year. The use of street theatre is both novel and necessary, given the relatively low levels of both literacy and access to televisions in much of Kenya.
Though S.A.F.E's profile will rise considerably as a result of the exposure that ITV will grant its efforts, this is work that it has been doing for some time. In the last 10 years, it has reached around 1.2 million people with its programmes, and has tackled perhaps the most sensitive issue of all: training 150 Masai circumcisors in alternatives to female circumcision.
The Olympic hangover has already set in for some, with many returning to the traditional TV fare of content-free celebrity shows. But for something different, and something important, tuning in to ITV on Friday night would be a great place to start.
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