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

Drama students enjoy Metamorphosis

On 24 January sixth form drama students went to see Metamorphosis at the Lyric Hammersmith. The play had a very mixed reception. The set was ingenious, and the ending was unanimously liked as the use of a modern circus discipline and strong lighting cut to the very core of even the sturdiest of dispositions. The story is about the lengths to which a family will go to fit in and the astonishing betrayal that is entailed within that. Gregor’s transformation was expertly portrayed by Gísli Örn Garðarsson as the man who turns into a bug and his sister was chillingly well played by Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir.

By Molly Rogerson, 6.2

*************************************************************************************************

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.