Block 3 experience The Tempest

To support the study of Shakespeare, the English department took all Block 3 to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre matinee performance of The Tempest in Stratford-upon-Avon on Thursday 12 January.

This was a very exciting opportunity as the production has had rave reviews including: ★★★★ ”Simon Russell Beale’s superb Prospero” The Guardian, ★★★★★ “State-of-the-art stagecraft” Financial Times and ★★★★ “The visuals are true to the hype of a breath-taking order” Daily Telegraph. The students also attended a Workshop about The Tempest at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the morning which very effectively introduced them to the main characters, themes and ideas about staging and interpretation. The overwhelming response from the students was that it had indeed been a wonderful experience. Read some of their anonymous responses below…

256px-rsc_theatre_stratford-upon-avon_13f2005Last week, I saw The Tempest, written by Shakespeare, and performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, directed by Gregory Doran. 

The plot of The Tempest was about two people, a father and daughter, banished to an island by Prospero’s brother, who now fills his position as Duke. On the island, Prospero has two slaves, one magical and one monster. With the help of Ariel, his sprite, he traps his brother and the rest of the royals in a storm out at sea not far from the island. When the royal party are swept ashore, Prospero makes them suffer as he once did.

Throughout the performance of The Tempest I enjoyed the character of Ariel, played by Mark Quartley. As Ariel was a sprite, his movement was very quiet and elegant – he really made you believe that he was invisible and magical.

I also enjoyed the performance of Stephano (played by Tony Jayawardena), one of the people from the ship wreck, he was the King’s butler, and throughout the play, played a very drunk character.

One of the parts that truly made the show stand-out from all the other productions of The Tempest and made it exciting to watch, were the effects, the lighting and the stage set. When Ariel first appeared on stage, he was shown as a projection on a cylinder.  One of my favourite special effect moments was a part in the storm when Gonzalo went from being on the ship, to being underwater – they showed that very well…

See what the audiences are saying about The Tempest:

Read a review of The Tempest published in The Stage
View images from the production

…The Tempest was an amazing play about Prospero (Simon Russell Beale) who was overthrown from his Dukedom by his brother Antonio (Oscar Pearce).

Prospero managed to survive thanks to Gonzalo (Joseph Mydell) a trustworthy servant who gave him books of magic, food and water.

After the wedding of the King of Naples’ daughter, a storm brings them to an island where Prospero and his daughter Miranda are stranded.

My favourite character was Ariel because he played exactly as you would imagine: light and dainty but could also be cheeky and moody. Ariel’s costume was also how most people would imagine: it was blue and it had parts with glitter and green, his hair was also quite spectacular and it had been slicked back into three spikes. Another character I thought was amazing was Juno, one of the spirits, because she really looked like a goddess and acted like one. Her dress was very big and she moved very elegantly, almost floating.

Prose, poetry and coursework in the English department

By David Anson, Head of English

It is a busy season for the English Department; 6.2s have been beavering away at a very important piece of coursework and the Block 5s are working towards the final hand-in of their coursework folder. Nevertheless, we have found the time for some superb enrichment. On Tuesday 15 November we had the pleasure of welcoming two visiting writers. Our first was acclaimed children’s author Jon Robinson who joined us to be our annual writer in residence. Jon’s Nowhere trilogy is highly acclaimed and has been awarded a number of notable prizes as well as receiving a nomination for the Carnegie Medal in 2014. Jon spent the morning with our colleagues at Dunhurst helping young writers in Block 2 and then in the afternoon Jon worked with 6.1 students who are taking the creative enrichment course – this year run by Jen Moore. Jon’s one-to-ones were extremely valuable and year on year we find this attention generates the most astonishing creative writing – look out for the 2017 ‘Poet’s Stone’ and our creative writing celebration in the Spring term.

In the evening we had the treat of poet, playwright, novelist and critic Glyn Maxwell reading in the Olivier Theatre as part of the Bedales Poetry Series. Glyn has won some significant awards for his work over the years and has extensively edited the work of Derek Walcott who is a particular favorite of mine. It was really quite special to hear both his poetry and prose being read in the theatre. Glyn had supper with some of our Sixth Form English Literature students at 50 Church Road beforehand; something we try to arrange every year. Our students had a rare opportunity to ask some very candid and insightful questions of a writer at the peak of his career.

Why exam boards must keep theatre live

Try to imagine a performance of Hamlet in which the play within a play – staged by the Prince to establish Claudius’ culpability for the death of the King was delivered not live, but through a TV set hooked up to a DVD player. Would Claudius betray himself in the same way, and would it matter so much?

I ask because recently it was announced that the drama GCSE syllabus is to change so that teachers can show pupils recordings of theatre performances rather than taking them to see live shows. This is to ensure that all students get to experience live theatre, with Karen Latto of awarding body OCR telling the TES that geography and financial constraints need no longer be prohibitive as a consequence. I don’t think anybody would argue with the intention here – like Karen, I want to see every young person able to experience theatre. However, like many others, I am concerned that the legitimisation of the DVD option will mean that some drama departments – already too often at the back the queue when it comes to school resources – will find money for theatre trips even harder to come by.

Recordings used in the way proposed may well increase students’ exposure to theatre – but is it an acceptable substitute? If, like me and many other practitioners, you believe that the experience of theatre is more than the ostensible content, then the answer has to be no. Performances are heavily dependent on the audience – not a generic audience, but the audience in the theatre for each particular show. When Bedales students write about theatre they have attended, they are critiquing something of which they were an active part – a factor we encourage them to consider.

We must also be aware that through the use of recordings we risk heaping a whole different set of interpretations upon students. Here, they must take into account not only the direction of the play, but also that of the recording. It would be worryingly uncritical of us to assume recordings of live theatre to be benign representations – some streamings of performances from the National Theatre, the Barbican and other venues have been complex multi-camera presentations that, for all of their merits, must be considered different experiences. Each audience member at the live event has his or her unique perspective – they all occupy a different space, and are free to give their attention to whatever they please. For those watching the associated recording, much of this work is done for them. It is performance and it can be brilliant – but it is of a different order.

The direction of travel in terms of what constitutes meaningful exposure to theatre must be considered with care. If it is considered acceptable for students to make critical judgements on the basis of exposure only to facsimiles, then might we expect the same to become true for examiners? As things stand, examiners are partly reliant on DVDs or a weblink as the basis for their appraisals, and we might consider whether we would be comfortable with this becoming their exclusive basis of assessment. If the answer is no, then we must reflect carefully on the implications for doing the same with students.

Let’s do what it takes to get students into theatres rather than risk confining more and more of them to the classroom. Let’s fund national and regional centres to offer discounted access for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to go. I know from my own experience that theatres are more than happy to open their doors to this end. Awarding bodies would be excellent administrators of such programmes, and I believe it would be good for them – and for their relationships with both theatres and schools – to be advocates for live theatre in this way.

By way of an afterthought, it occurs to me that Claudius might prefer the DVD option, but then of course he has a vested interest.

By Phil Tattersall-King, Head of Drama

Lyrical Ballads: exploring Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley

IMG_8783

From 4-7 February, 6.2 English students studying Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads (1798) visited Somerset, Bristol and the Wye Valley. We explored a number of sites that were important to the early Romantic poets and that were depicted throughout their poetry, and learnt about the poems’ historical and contemporary critical reception.

Below is our poetic response to the trip, which draws on the various forms and meters experimented with by Wordsworth and Coleridge. There is no “gaudiness and inane phraseology” as seen in many “modern writers” though, as Wordsworth continued, to say:

“Readers of superior judgement may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.”

By Ed’s English Set, with thanks to Ed Mason and Clare Lock for an incredible trip!

A Romantic Road Trip

How to begin? What a wonder:

We rose with the dawn one Friday morn

And headed to Kilve’s shore;

Taking in Somerset’s landscape and croissants

on our Bedales bus to the rumbling of its core.

 

On the beach we contemplated Wordsworth’sIMG_8699

‘Anecdote for Fathers’, found fossils,

And maxed out on photographs

The rock formations afforded us.

 

To Watchet, to its harbour, to its sculpture

Of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

To coffee, cake and reading

‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘The Lime Tree Bower’.
Then arriving in Wells, the smallest city in the land,

The Good Earth provided us lunch and warmth of conversation

We met Agnes in her eighties

She is full of energy

Conversation turned to Bedales and she recognises the name

She mentions ‘riotous’ behaviour whilst chuckling into her soup.

Upon leaving we’re told to ensure we see ‘Quarter Jack’

Who, in Wells Cathedral, in his glorious mechanisation kicks

A chime from the bells each quarter hour.

 

Food filled, we ventured a cavern of vast size

The Wookey Hole.IMG_8714

Tracking the neoclassical footsteps of Alexander Pope,

the group entered an ancient Jurassic world guided by a Wookey enthusiast,

special effects enhanced tales of witches, Celts and cheeses

then out through a mirror maze and Victorian penny games

and away from the Bizarre.

 

Down the rained cobbles of the most complete medieval street in Europe,

In Wells. We entered the rib cage of the Cathedral

Following its high white bones arching upwards

To prettily painted veins of decoration,

Hearing the high notes of Wells choir rehearsing

For Handal’s Messiah in some hidden chamber.

 

Upon the hour, in the vestry we witnessed

Jack’s musical movement in all its glory

Thanking Agnes quietly.

 

Travelodge and shower

went another hour.

 

Out for food to be filled again!

Then Tesco for face masks and ice cream

Bed time. Sweet dreams.

 

We rose with the rain

Bus and breakfasted again.

To Tintern and its rustic ruinIMG_8755

Dancing in the rain drops

We frolicked among its

Battered buttresses

And tried to recreate Turner’s perspective

And Wordsworth’s words

‘with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony and the deep power of joy

We see into the life of things.’

 

Tintern Abbey to Clifton’s cave

Limboing we descended down a rocky oesophagus

To a viewing platform made from the cave’s mouth

Looking out toward the suspension bridge-

Sending us whistled complaints in the wind.

And there we read of how Coleridge struggled to define

the difference betwixt beautiful, picturesque and sublime.

 

Lunchtime.

 

Bristol – a tapas bar

Hummus, chicken, pesto, carrot and coriander

A market selling silver from Northern India

The seller selling Bristol

For the beauty of its people.

Beautiful.

 

We regrouped at the Arnofini Gallery

Watched John Akomfrah’s ‘Vertigo’ which showed

Humanity’s repeated history of atrocity

Aiming to encourage our sympathy.

A brisk walk in the rain to food

Quinoa and avocados-

Eating al-fresco in Nando’s,

To a show at the Wardrobe theatre-

‘The hours before we wake’ Prophetic and amusing;

A pill for dreaming in the 22nd century.

Bus, bed and lie-in until 9:30. Luxury.

 

We rose with the bright sky

Then drove into Glastonbury

And headed up the tor, losing ourselves in the breeze

Thinking of ‘these hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door.’

Somerset and more.

Picturesque.

 

Then to the last

Stonehenge. our final pilgrimage

paying homage to the scene where Tess lay,

the stones of ceremony and great debate.

Those stones which seem to defy man’s possibility

On nature’s wind-wild verdant vast plateau.

Sublime.

Shuttling back to the Bedales bus,

we beetled home under one grey sky

on roads where two great Romantics roamed

along the Valley of the Wye.

Literature, music and freedom of expression

My assembly on 16 November celebrated the very rich history of creative writing we have here at Bedales. We have over 400 published works in the Library which is pretty impressive for a school that has, until fairly recently, been of a modest size. In the wake of the terrible atrocities in Paris on Friday 13 November, I was concerned about the seeming frivolity and privilege of the writing of poetry or short stories, but our passion for art, literature and music are also under attack and it is this freedom of expression, amongst many other things, that I hope we value and want to protect.

The assembly began with a very moving piece of music written and performed by Delilah Montagu in 6.2 in response to the Paris attacks, she was joined by Caleb Curtis on cello and Alia Mehta on vocals. We have many impressive writers who are very well known; John Wyndham, Harriet Lane, Kate Summerscale and Thom Gunn to mention a few, but who were all represented through readings by staff and students. We also had extracts read out from younger students of yesteryear who contributed to various Bedales publications as far back as the 1920s; Lucas Closs in 6.2 read a rather amusing piece on The Cow by an anonymous boy who narrates an unfortunate encounter of the bovine variety which ends somewhat bathetically in a ditch. We then had a number of brave souls, Becky Grubb, Aidan Hall and Sam Headon who all volunteered to read from their own work; impressive it was too.

The assembly ended with a piece by Joan Billson who was here in 1927 and at the age of 15 wrote a rather stirring and evocative piece called Cutting Class in March which speaks of a yearning for the great outdoors that we are blessed with here in Steep and which, I feel, underlines a spirit of liberty and freedom that our own creative writing can so perfectly express.

By David Anson, Head of English

An energetic reading of Antony and Cleopatra

The Shakespeare Society recently gathered at 50 Church Road for an energetic reading of Antony and Cleopatra. We read the entire play through with charisma and emotion to try and appropriately convey the feelings of each character in such a powerful tragedy. However we enjoyed some humour interspersed at various points in the play, whether reading in drunken voices the scene of some generals draining the wine or a clown wishing Cleopatra “all the joy of the worm”, ie. the asps he has just brought her, and Cleopatra’s response of “Will it eat me?”. The very fact that Shakespeare can bring such variation to one of his most heart-wrenching tragedies is a testament to his abilities as a playwright, which makes it all the more enjoyable to read. The pizza and ice cream for afters went down a treat, and we discussed what our next play might be… perhaps Troilus and Cressida? Who knows, but we eagerly await the next meeting!

By Angus Carey-Douglas, 6.2

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

English Literature students enjoy production of King Lear

Last Wednesday A Level English Literature students went to see a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester. The production was directed by Angus Jackson, whilst Frank Langella played the title role, bringing both pride and tragedy to his interpretation of Lear in a perfect balance. Langella demonstrated his extreme versatility as an actor of both stage and screen in the production, crafting his interpretation of Lear so that his inevitable descent into madness gained a sense of heartbreaking inevitability. All the students found it an extremely rewarding experience to see the text they had learned about in class being brought to the stage, as all the scenes we had studied were actualised. We could see the torture of Gloucester happen before our eyes and witness ourselves Cordelia’s upsetting estrangement from her father. Shakespeare’s work is perhaps not the most accessible kind of writing due to its complex language and plot, but the production emphasised the skill and dexterity of the language, making it a production that was not just suitable for those who had studied the play, but for all. With fantastic performances from all the cast and an amazing set, the production gave a refreshing insight into the play whilst ensuring it did not lose any of its original resonance. King Lear will run until 30 November at the Minerva in Chichester before the production moves to New York.

By Amy Blakelock, 6.2

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.