Shakespeare Schools Festival
EMMA LEE The record-breaking Shakespeare Schools Festival, the UK’s largest youth drama festival, comes to Norwich Playhouse. Emma Outten spoke to a few of the Norfolk schools taking part.
In 2005 the Shakespeare Schools Festival scooped a Guinness World Record for “the most people performing Shakespeare on a single day” during their “1 Night of Shakespeare” event in association with the BBC.
This year, until February 10, 25,000 young actors will re-enact some of the greatest stories ever told, as 1,050 schools across the UK have signed up for the biggest celebration of Shakespeare in the UK.
This is how it works: four schools perform their half-hour plays at the same theatre each night, together with full technical support.
The festival is open to every secondary school and youth theatre in the UK and runs every two years.
Pupils from 100 schools in the East of England are taking part this year, and icy Nordic winters and rock 'n' roll fairies are just some of the theatrical treats in store for audiences. Students, aged 11 to 16, will perform the playwright's classics in their own distinctive style, choosing from 15 specially-adapted half-hour plays, including abridgements by Sir Tom Stoppard (The Merchant of Venice) and Sir Arnold Wesker (Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing).
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A cast of 15 boys from Eaton Hall School in Norwich, Norfolk's residential school for pupils with emotional, behavioural and social needs, will bring Shakespeare's Hamlet to life at Norwich Playhouse on Thursday, February 8.
Their previous production was Macbeth and this year their play will have an unusual visual element, as the Elizabethan revenge tragedy has been echoed by presenting Hamlet in the style of a Japanese Kabuki play.
The cast will be wearing kimono costumes and wigs, with their faces made up in traditional Kabuki fashion - whitened with bold black and red features. The pupils have also composed their own Japanese music which accompanies the actors throughout the play's action on stage.
“Our boys have worked with amazing enthusiasm right from their auditions in September 2006”, said Pat Douglas, drama teacher at Eaton Hall School.
“All dialogue is pre-recorded on a CD, which means that the audience listening in the auditorium can hear every word - so we don't have to worry about words or squeaky voices on the night! Also, the boys have been watching the film Memoirs of a Geisha after each rehearsal and I am sure that this cultural and visual epic has greatly helped them to imagine themselves as Japanese actors on stage.”
Eaton Hall is working towards achieving Performing Arts Specialist Status and already holds the Arts Mark Gold Award.
However, for each of these pupils the individual experience of performing Hamlet will prove to be a memory of transforming personal recognition.
A cast of 11 to 14-year-olds from Archbishop Sancroft CE High School in Harleston, will perform A Winter's Tale on Thursday February 8, at Norwich Playhouse. Their production will be richly woven with elements of Norse mythology, to bring to life the icy winter, and the colour and warmth of Victorian Romanticism.
Two sisters, Alice and Tilly Carruthers, play the characters Queen Hermione and her daughter Pedita.
Other cast members include Charlotte Campbell, aged 13, who said: “It's very exciting to get a chance to do something like this.”
Twelve-year-old Mandy Jordan added: “I'm very excited that the play is going to the Playhouse.”
Ben Coleman, aged 14 said simply: “It's inspiring and worthwhile.”
Thirteen-year-old Sinead Carey added: “Doing this is a good experience and is making me more confident.”
And Year 7 pupils at Taverham Hall School will be performing A Midsummer Night's Dream at Norwich Playhouse on Tuesday February 6.
The pupils have set their play in a school playground, where the main players are either schoolchildren or members of the school staff. Thus, Oberon is the science teacher, Theseus, the headmaster and the fairies become a rock band who call themselves Flowerpower.
The members of the band have written and produced their own music for the occasion, and it promises to be a rather noisier version of the song to which Titania will fall asleep.
The mechanicals are, of course, enthusiastic members of the school drama group; and the children in the playground, who do not leave the stage while the play progresses, represent the trees in the forest, or the pillars and statues of the court.
Christine Barraclough, who is directing the play, says that the pupils taking part have worked hard since the end of last term, learning words and rehearsing in break times whenever they can. It has been a good team effort, into which they have all entered with enthusiasm.
The idea behind Shakespeare Schools Festival is that abridged Shakespeare bridges the cultural gap for the nation's youngsters.
Taverham Hall School is one example of this. Christine said: “When we thought about it we realised we could equate several of the characters with characters of the school.”
The Shakespeare Schools Festival takes place at Norwich Playhouse from Tuesday February 6 to Friday February 9. Box Office: 01603 598598.
Participating schools will also be performing at King's Lynn Corn Exchange on Thursday February 8 and Friday February 9. Box Office 01553 764864.
For participating schools and theatres in your area visit www.ssf.uk.com