Category Archives: Think play. Do play

Developing ideas around play

I’m Malcolm of Mufti Games and I’ve created this blog to document observations and thinking I am doing around play.

I am currently a Leverhulme Art Scholar attached to Bristol Old Vic Ferment and I am concentrating on developing my practice around play in theatre and heritage settings. I’ll be writing about shows, events, exhibitions and everyday happenings that I see valuable to the play community. I’ll also note down musings I have about the state of play in our current climate.

I hope you enjoy what you read, please feel free to start a conversation below or get in touch with me directly.

Paper Aeroplanes, housing consultancy follow up

I wanted to add a follow up about the play consultation on housing in Hengrove Park. 

It was very evident in speaking to the children at Perry Court that the architecture of the urban  planning could have significant effects on their access to the playpark and their experience of accessing and using the park.  Currently they walk through a wide open space to access the park. They feel safe as they are in the open, able to be seen and able to see others. If the children are forced to access the playpark via an enclosed route- an alley or street for instance, because of encroaching housing, they immediately feel concerned for their safety. Older children can seem threatening for the younger ones and during conversations at the playpark we were told that the skate park and play park naturally segregate older from younger in  positive way- they each have their zones. When older ones use the playpark, younger ones can feel threatened, so encountering older children in, and on the way to the park can be a worry for younger children. Older children are not the only threat, it could be adults too, but the main thing is that encountering people in an enclosed space is a worry, while being in an open space is good. They feel safe, watched and free. It is evident that if access route was to be constricted, some young people would stop going to the playpark, at least would stop accessing it from Hengrove Park.”

We used paper aeroplanes to ‘send’ messages to the council. Children wrote on the planes and we flew them into the cockpit of the large, blackboard plane.

Messages were very varied, lots about wildlife and space to play. The one that really stuck out to me as sending a message though was:

““Dear whoever came up with this idea-  no offence but I’m not liking the big pile of houses because it’s just ruining the environment. Please take this.”


childrens throughs caught on paper aeroplanes

Play in ritual: Indian Wedding.

I have recently been to Delhi, India for a wedding. I was aware that there would be a great deal of ceremony, of ritual and I know a little about some playful traditions but I had no idea just how many games and how much play would be involved-in similar and very different ways to western weddings.

It was a Hindu wedding, a Vedic Brahmin marriage ceremony.  Games and play featured throughout the two days in a general sense, and in very specific elements too. There were times when free play just happened (of free will, by choice, self generated) and when people were instructed to play as part of the ceremony.

note: we were given booklets explaining the ceremony-anything in italics with inverted commas comes from the booklet.

Day one-the engagement, which featured rituals “known collectively under the name vratham”.

The outdoor area of our house, (essentially a car port) was beautifully transformed into a   celebratory space, decorating it with bright coloured material and flowers. Chairs and tables were decorated and of course food was prepared. The day started with Henna. Everyone was invited to have henna applied and the henna artists instead on bringing their own playlist to really liven up the morning! Henna was a great way to bring strangers together because as one has to let the henna dry, groups of people must stand with arms extended in odd positions for most of the morning. The shared silliness of the physicality and the collective avoidance of brushing against anything created a lot of fun and laughter. The father of the grooms impulsive ‘hands in pockets’ was a classic example.

Drummers soon arrived and the dancing began. Children retreated due to the volume, but they formed their own dance circle at a distance, and proceeded to tear and throw masses of flower petals, creating a maelstrom of blossom and naughty-ness.

Bottled water is a big feature of Delhi, as tap water is undrinkable and I loved how the mass of tiny bottles became play apparatus. All manner of throwing and tossing games were played, versions of cricket, bowling, catch, juggling. Skill was found in the amount of water left in bottles, in spin, hight and distance.

Throughout the afternoon rites were performed and family members had their parts to play. The main players were instructed where to stand, what to do, what the rules were and we as onlookers took in the uniting of families, communities and  our two loved ones.

Day two-the wedding or the Muhurtham took place at a temple across town. Rituals are of course carried through from distant times and although we live our lives differently, we continue the actions in a ceremony. This means we are often acting out stories, playing at being the characters of our ancestors.  This gave the shape to much of the days games.

The groom was “equipped with an umbrella, a walking stick, a palm leaf and a pair of footwear….ready to start on a trip to a foreign location…the city of Benares..a reputed centre of learning and dwelling place of many learned men”. The groom has two options-pursue higher levels of learning or get married. The brides family then persuade him to get married and to their bride. At this point, the groom must make out as if his mind is not yet made up try to make a run for it, several times while the brides family contain him. Bride and groom are life onto shoulders by friends and attempt throw garlands over each other.

The couple are then placed on a swing-to signify the ups and owns of married life and rituals carried on around them. One featured rice balls being thrown over shoulders, often almost hitting onlookers.

During all of this, was my favourite game of the wedding. I had come across it when researching wedding celebrations for Just So festival last year, but had no idea the stakes were so high!

The brides sisters, or female friends will try to steal the grooms shoes. If successful, the groom must buy back his shies before he can leave. It doesn’t matter if the shoes cost 99p-he can’t be married until he pays for them, and the price can go into hundreds of pounds!

We knew about the game in advance, so were ready (or so we thought). As soon as Groom’s  shoes were off, I put them on my feet. Oh and did the ‘sisters’ notice! Across the crowd eyes could be seen flashing around, down to me feet and knowing glances exchanged. We upped stakes by separating shoes, handing one to another guest. Everywhere we went, eyes watched us and whispers followed. The game was going well, but I felt it was a little skewed to our side, so I entrusted my shoe to a friend and walked barefoot across the temple, just to confuse the ‘sisters’. Ah, but how my confidence did undo me. The shoe was passed to the grooms mother-who was not warned of the stakes and quick as a flash, the sisters had it.

‘Ah! but you only have one’-I laughed

‘No. We have both.’

‘Eh?!’ Catastrophe!

A friend of the bride, from York no less, had been recruited as a double agent by the sisters! She had been staying with the family for a week. How silly of us to trust her! She simply walked up to mother and brother of groom, asked for the shoes and they gave them. Foiled! We managed to negotiate down to £100 in the end, and the brother paid, fessing up to his folly. Gosh-it was a brilliant game! I’m sure you’ll see versions of it in future Mufti Games missions!

Later, we came back together for ‘Nalangu’-a playful evening of indoor games. Essentially this section was a way of gamifying the rituals. Historically the couple may have been linked at a very young age, the games got the children used to the idea of ritual. The games kept the couple entertained and as they may also be strangers, they would break down barriers and allow the couple to get to know each other through play. Games at Nalangu included pretending to cook and groom each other, rolling and grabbing a coconut, decorating the bride with flowers, bride and groom singing to each other and the brilliant ‘smashing of poppadoms’ over each others heads!

Although these were very prescribed games, and were played under instruction from an elder, they were fun and celebratory and could break down barriers to allow a life of playfulness together.

The evening I got talking to Indian guests about the ceremony, about ‘hinduism’ and about language. I know that Mufti was an Urdu word and meant amongst other things ‘legal scholar’ but I had heard that it also related to a Hindi word related to play. One definition of ‘play’ is ‘a physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective’.

Happily that evening I was informed that in Hindi, ‘Muft’ simply means ‘free’.

Play in housing consultation


I’ve been working with a local neighbourhood housing forum, using play to help engage local residents in a ‘reg 14 consultation’ on a large housing development. The housing is being built on a large park, which was formally an airport so both the current and former uses have deep play links.

We have built an ‘engagement plane’ as a mobile tool to aid the consultation. The plane serves us in several ways:

  • as a hook- to draw people in to talk to us, it is an unusual object on the street, yet a familiar image in the collective memory of the area.
  • as a recording device. People can respond to the planning proposals by writing on the plane in chalk. The can also use ‘heart’ pins to show activities on the park they love.
  •  as a heritage tool. The space to be developed was an airport and people have very fond memories of it.
  • to solidify the ‘brand’. It is important to be clear to residents, who the group is- a local, voluntary forum, not the local Council. The council and the forum are each consulting on different proposals for the same space, at the same time so clarity is key, as is the message that there is an alternative proposal to the one being offered, and well publicised by the council. The forum’s logo was drawn by local school children, so they already have a DIY, playful, local feel to their brand. A cartoon style, slightly irreverently shaped plane helped to add to this feel and make the forum approachable.
  • to connect with a wider age range. The plane has allowed us to engage many many children in the consultation in a way that formal consultation would not have been possible. In turn this has engaged their parents and empowered young people to use thier voice and be counted. We have also found that older residents enjoy the playful aspect and again, the plane links to their living memory of the airport.

We have toured the plane to several sites in Hengrove and Whitchurch- the car boot sale, the play-park, the local civic centre and a school. The plane caught attention each time and together we learnt how to most effectively engage people in discussion, using the variety of tools we had. I interviewed people with my Zoom h4n recorder. As a professional looking bit of kit, respondents played along with ‘being interviewed’. We tried out other play tools on the street, such as playmobile illustrating activities and pins to point out what was particularly important to you. Alongside the plane we used a model illustrating the two different proposals. This is a relatively common tool in planning consultation, but I was taken by how playful it was. It immediately showed people the impact of the house building and the contrast between proposals. It linked into model making, toy trains and dolls houses, and the colours helped to illustrate. I was impressed how much people connected to the model. At a schools session I asked ‘what are we looking at?” and one girl said “home”.

We ran two sets of sessions at a local school. Beginning with the model and the childrens understanding of the forthcoming development, we talked about how we used the park- how we played and how we travelled across it. I was struck by the specific impact housing had on the children. One housing plan had a great deal of housing very close to the play park- children complained that it would make it more difficult to get to the park. They were aware that the street would be open, but the idea of walking through the housing was unattractive, to some even threatening. They also voiced concerns about the play-park being closed more regularly during the development. Another consideration is the impact residential housing so close to the local skate park. Could the skate park be forced to move, much as inner city music venues are threatened be new housing close-by? The children each wrote a message on paper, to be delivered as part of the consultation. We transformed the paper into aeroplanes and flew them into our engagement plane. The physical action of contributing our thoughts and ideas to such a major change in the local landscape felt very powerful.


This work is contributing to an ongoing study into play in housing campaigning and I will continue to update on what I’m experiencing and learning on these pages. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

playing on the former runway


images by Malcolm Hamilton with kind permission of the people of Whitchurch and Hengrove, plane built by Kerry Russell at In Bristol Studios.

Find out more about the forum and the proposals:

Mufti Games worked with Liz Beth of LB Planning.


What is Mufti?

I’m often asked “what does mufti mean?”

The word is of Arabic origin, from late 16th Century: active participle of ‘aftā ‘decide a point of law’. The mufti is a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters. It’s also a term used to describe civilian dress, especially as worn by a person who normally wears a military uniform. The term is thought to have originated around 1816 ‘perhaps from a mufti’s costume in stage plays, of robes, a fez and slippers, which was felt to resemble plain clothes.’

The last day of school is often known as ‘Mufti Day’ as students can wear their own clothes. In mine and Simon’s schools it was also a day when you could bring your own games in, so Mufti felt like a great name for the company.  As time has gone on, I’ve realised that not every school calls it Mufti Day but the terms reach is both far and sporadic. Simon grew up in Exmouth, me in Manchester but while one school in a city may have Mufti Day another next door may be ‘wear your own clothes day’ or something equally less catchy. What does your school call it? I’d be interested to know where it pops up.

I’ve also been told Mufti relates to a hindi word meaning play, but I can’t verify that yet- perhaps you can help us out?

I found this definition on  ‘Mufti – derived from the Arabic word meaning free, this trench slang was used to point to civilian clothes and was frequently used among officers’

I can’t find any other translation saying Mufti means ‘free’ but it links well to law, freedom to dress how you choose and of course play. Mufti Games work is always free to participate in, thats an important factor for us. We want the work to be as accessible as possible. It’s also why we’ve found our home in the outdoor arts sector, anyone can stumble across our games and join in. Mufti Games believe strongly in the right to play and for everyone to have the freedom to play, no matter their age or background. Finding opportunities to invite play into your life enriches and nourishes, it makes life better. I’ll write more about this subject in another post…

So, ‘mufti’ is:

  • Muslim legal expert
  • Civilian clothes
  • day to play
  • theatre and games company dedicated to accessible, universal play


Heritage and other early years play sessions

We revisited St Pauls Family centre yesterday with Bristol Old Vic to continue experimenting with outreach session for early years/stay and play.

Repeating the session, with some alterations had a very positive impact. We led a less structured workshop and created play stations around the room to investigate ‘hat making’; ticket stamping; set building; object exploration and then later a stage- with curtain. We kept an element of the ‘storytelling’ – the context of theatre, the olden days and what happened in theatres but allowed much more time, and space to react, allowing the flow and rhythm to be child led.

Our clearest discoveries were that a mixture of:

  • historic objects
  • loose parts
  • physical storyteling
  • craft

which allowed for

  • group play
  • individual play
  • performance – both by facilitators and children
  • intergenerational craft activities (and conversation/new relationships as a result)
  • questioning and exploration

Going forward I would like to take this model into public heritage spaces- perhaps the foyer/cafe of Bristol Old Vic after refurbishment.


(pictures to come)

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