Insightful Keats’ lecture

By Thea Sesti, 6.2

After the trip to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset on Saturday 19 January, English teachers David Anson, Ed Mason and Lucy McIlwraith took a slightly different group of 6.2 English students to Chichester to attend a lecture delivered by distinguished academic Professor Nicholas Roe on John Keats’ narrative poem The Eve of St. Agnes.

The lecture was organised in celebration of the poem’s bicentennial anniversary and took place the day before the Eve itself, which falls on 20 January. The lecture contained a lot of insightful context to Keats’ life as well as that of the poem, evidencing the brutality and viciousness of the criticism the poet had to break through in order to a gain a place among the English poets, which indeed he did with much of his 1819 poetry and in no small measure in St. Agnes’ Eve.

The lecture was followed by a brief but curious bell, which preceded an assorted poetry interlude, and finally a dramatic reading of both Keats’ biography and the 42-stanza poem itself. Despite its impressive range of talent and voices, however, it left something wanting in its representation of dramatic setting and passionate young love, which only sparked in us a desire to recreate the scene for ourselves.

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Twelfth Night – theatre review

By Eben Macdonald, Block 3

On 15 January, Block 3 students went to see William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, directed by Kelly Hunter.

The plot follows the plight of a woman named Viola, who is shipwrecked on the fictional island of Illyria, wrongly assuming that her brother Sebastian is dead. For her own safety, she pretends to be a boy, gives herself the pseudonym Cesario and goes to work for Duke Orsino, who madly loves Queen Olivia. She, however, does not feel the same, therefore Viola tries to persuade Olivia to love Orsino, but Olivia in fact falls in love with Viola, of course thinking she is male. There is then a variety of mad love affairs.

This energetic and powerful performance on Shakespeare’s most famous comedy certainly has a lot of display. Everything from the acting to the music had been well thought out and enthusiastically executed. For example, in almost every character I could very much get a feel for their personalities and inner-affairs; Oliver Grant, who plays Duke Orsino, was very versatile in his conveyance of emotion, and I could easily detect his raging desire for Queen Olivia’s love (Augustina Seymour), his consistent desperation, and his comic romancing. There is also a particularly moving scene where Viola (Paula Rodriguez), dressed as a boy, comes back from having attempted to woo Olivia in order to persuade her to love Orsino. He asks her excitedly, desperately whether he (she) was successful or not. When the response is ‘no’, Orsino falls into the pit of depression.

Also, I really got the impression of Viola’s audacity and eroticism when trying to woo Olivia, to which the audience responded with a lot of laughing, although at times I admit that I could not hear her very well. I thought that Malvolio, played by the composer himself, Tom Chapman, was especially good, as he starts off as a comically bossy and domineering character, and his amorous passion for Olivia, but after being imprisoned in darkness and humiliated, develops into a cynical and dark person; he delivered the famous line “I’ll have revenge on the whole pack of you” perfectly. The audience reacted to his yellow, cross-gartered stockings with plenty of laughs.

I very much enjoyed the way music and drama were ingeniously interweaved. For example, when we see Olivia for the first, grief-stricken upon her father’s death, is sat there, hunched, playing a mournful melody on the cello. It was evident that all the actors on stage were talented musicians as all the wonderful music was played by the actors themselves. I commend Tom Chapman, who was in charge of music.

Despite all this, there was one thing I did not approve of: at the beginning of the play, some of the scenes were swapped about, which I am against in Shakespeare because I believe that a director does not have the right to play with Shakespeare’s plays in that way. I also noticed that at times the audience did not respond to a lot of things with laughing, although I found them very amusing myself, such as Viola’s eroticism and Malvolio’s adoration and obsequiousness to Olivia. There were also actors playing more than one character, for example, Augustina Seymour plays both Olivia and Sir Toby. Although this was confusing at times, I appreciate that it was deliberately used to create a sense of disorder and chaos, which is what this play is about.

The simplicity of the set also caught me: it is merely a small, unraised stage with musical instruments scattered about the sides, conveying this metaphorical sense of music being intermingled with drama, and a ladder at the back of the stage which Malvolio eventually uses as the prison, hanging there is darkness, still wearing his ridiculous yellow, cross-gartered stockings, as the clown mocks him.

The end scene when Sebastian and Viola are reconciled, I thought was particularly moving, because the perplexion Orsino, Olivia and the curate display of seeing these two identical twins, right next to each other is so incredulous, and the two siblings, so elated to finally be together again.

The actors in this play certainly deserve credit for their energy and versatility, Kelly Hunter definitely deserves credit for his ability to mould this great play to please modern audiences (though I did not like the scene-swaps), and his magnificent performance of Orsino, and Tom Chapman for his musical creativity. I recommend this play highly.

English Literature trip to ‘Othello’ at The Globe

On Tuesday 2 October, 6.1 English Literature students (along with a handful of 6.2s) embarked on another amazing trip. I’m beginning to learn fast there are many perks to doing this subject! Only a couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to meet Simon Armitage and now we have seen Othello with Mark Rylance at the Globe.

Mark Rylance gave a very convincing performance as Iago. Surprisingly, the actor chose to portray the malcontent with a bumbling foolishness. For me this gave Iago an even more menacing air, as if his calculated evil was lying behind a simple façade.

The atmosphere of the Globe was incredible as well. With the atmosphere of this historic theatre glowing, you could feel and trace the expressions of people with all of the shocking deaths and deceits throughout the play, as if Shakespeare could see into the future and know his play would still be captivating audiences all these years later.

This Othello, directed by Claire Von Kampen, seemed to have a lot of parts omitted. It was also interesting that Iago’s wife Emilia was portrayed as regal, and is displeased with her husband, which is not at all the impression I had had before.

However, I do not want to risk dampening a brilliant day, and this play truly had everyone on the edge of their seats:  an incredible achievement for a seven hundred year old writer.

The Globe was magnificent. Othello was enrapturing. However the same cannot be said for the bus ride home, and for London traffic; as  Shakespeare once put it: “What fresh hell is this?”

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.