Neatherd High Performs at The Playhouse Theatre, Norwich in the National Shakespeare Schools’ Festival
Students from Years 9 and 10 have been working on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” since June 2016. The culmination of their hard work paid off when, last night, 3rd November, they performed in front of a paying, public audience at the Playhouse Theatre in Norwich along with 3 other local schools.
The students actually started the project when they were in Years 7 and 8. I asked all Key Stage 3 students to consider creating a performance of a shortened Shakespearean script. My intentions were partly to help them improve their understanding of Shakespeare’s language and to increase their ability to interpret and direct scripted drama. Also though, at the back of my mind, was the idea that our students should showcase their talents in the nationally acclaimed Shakespeare Schools’ Festival.
Our first foray into Shakespeare’s world was a performance of As You Like It. Students performed as Year 7s and 8s in The Creative Arts Evening and as part of the opening celebrations for the school library – in the library itself. They went on to perform as Year 8s and 9s to an audience of friends and parents at Dereham Sixth Form College.
After As You Like It, most of the cast were really “up for more!” so the application to take part in the Shakespeare Schools’ Festival was submitted, accepted and we were on our way!
Rehearsals started in June 2016 and last night students’ efforts, time and energy really paid off. At the end of the night, one of the festival’s professional theatre directors gave feedback to the four schools who performed at the Playhouse. Comments on Neatherd’s “The Tempest” heaped praise on the cast because of their creative and energetic interpretation of the text, “that gripped the audience’s attention from start to finish.”
Throughout the workshops and rehearsals at The Playhouse in the run up to the performance, directors and technicians for the festival expressed how impressed they were that our students had come up with so many ingenious and physical ways to interpret Shakespeare’s language, characters and story so that the text could be accessed on so many levels. They agreed that students are often put off from studying Shakespeare because there are so many weird words and there’s such a lot of listening to do! With our performance they said, “You could see and therefore understand what characters were talking about because the language was communicated and reinforced through movement. I had to confess to them that my role in the project largely consisted of me having to rein in students’ creativity as they had so many ideas that our maximum running time limit of 30 minutes could have easily run over to an hour to accommodate everything the cast wanted to do.
Audience members commented after the show that they had liked the balance we had achieved through a mixture of beauty and grace in the performances of the four Ariels: Charlie Dickerson, Rebekka Hartley, Mia Johnson and Latasha Ward and knock-about comedy provided by Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban: Adam Littleproud, Amber Macey and George Rolland-Barry. The Ariels were supported by Elizabeth Vogel and Ellna Meachen as “wanna-be” Ariels and narrators. Moments of serious and sinister content were provided by Vincent Joisce, Louise Godin, William Rodwell and Amelia Morse as Antonio, Alonzo, Gonzalo and Sebastian who are consumed by grief, envy and a desire to kill! The love story between Ferdinand and Miranda was played beautifully but very much tongue in cheek by Pearl Williams-Elley and Sam Lockhart. Pearl and Sam also did the school proud with an on-the-day interview for local radio. Perhaps the hardest job of all fell to Charlie Dente who played the enigmatic magician Prospero whose character is often linked with William Shakespeare himself. Shakespeare wrote the play toward the end of his career as celebrity playwright and impresario so that, just as Shakespeare was bidding farewell to London and his theatrical career, so Prospero bids farewell to his island, his spirit companions and to his magical powers by destroying his spell book and magic staff:
“This rough magic I here abjure . . . . . . . . . .
I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.”
Charlie handled Prospero’s iconic speeches masterfully and carried the show to its conclusion as all but Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo set sail to leave the island.
Neatherd students once again showed what amazing performers, choreographers and directors they are in their contribution to the festival. They thoroughly deserved the rapturous applause they received at the end of the night. Business as usual to day though as all members of the cast are involved in rehearsals for the school’s annual production and various musical functions!
Acknowledgement and thanks are also due to Miss Costenbarder who joined our team in June as co-director and dialogue coach and to Miss Harris who helped and advised students with choreographic ideas for key moments in the action. Thanks also are due to the parents and staff who attended the show last night to support us and cheer the cast on!