Oscar Wilde experience for 6.1 English students

Following last month’s John Keats experience day for 6.2 students, it was the turn of 6.1 English Literature students to be transported back in time on Monday as they marked the end of their study of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by taking part in an experience day designed to cement their understanding of the play.

One of Wilde’s most renowned comedies, The Importance of Being Earnest tells the story of two bachelors and friends, John ‘Jack’ Worthing and Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff, who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their everyday lives and win the hearts of two women who claim they are only able to love men called Ernest. As the play progresses and the pair struggle to keep up with their yarns, they become embroiled in a tale of duplicity that ridicules the sensibilities of the Victorian era in which it is set.

In preparation for the day, students were asked to research the costume of the era and enlist the help of Joanne Greenwood in the Drama department to find suitable clothing to wear for the experience. They then took part in a range of practical exercises, organised by Head of English David Anson and English teacher Julia Bevan to bring the play to life and add another dimension to their study.

Exercises included making cucumber sandwiches, which fans of the play will recall Algy devours throughout, as well as toasting and buttering tea cakes and bread; writing and leaving ‘calling cards’ from one character to another; identifying a selection of items from the Victorian era, including a fish knife and cake fork; and sitting down in their costumes, including gloves and hats, to drink from cups and saucers and tuck into the spread they had prepared and brought along.

In an exercise which met all three of the A Level assessment objectives, students were also asked to identify quotations from the play that relate to food and write them on cardboard slices of cucumber, which they placed on cardboard slices of bread along with the relevant context, before coming up with a line of argument to fit the quote and writing it on cardboard plates.

Finally, the group listened to a short lecture Julia delivered on Wilde’s use of food in The Importance of Being Earnest. Used as a symbol of excess or overindulgence, Julia and David agreed that food plays such an important role in the play because Wilde uses it to satirise the farcical nature of Victorian aristocratic society, which has excessively strict codes of conduct.

Julia said: “Wilde was affiliated with the aesthetic movement of the late Victorian era; a movement that rejected moralising in the name of beauty. One of his characters in The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendolen, neatly captures some of his central ideas when she says ‘style, not sincerity is the vital thing’. It was with grace and style – and a great sense of humour – that our 6.1s dressed up, taking great care to produce and display sumptuous food. When they come to revise the play next year, the memory of our sunny garden tea party might also remind them of the importance the Victorians placed on mealtimes, and how Wilde gently satirises these restrictive codes of conduct without lecturing, making our experience of watching his play pleasurable.”

After the event, two students wrote a poem inspired by the experience:

Symphony in 6.1 English

An omnibus of students along Church Road
Crawls like the Victorian upper class
And, here and there a driver-by
Frowns like a confused Bedalian parent.

Big plates full of English muffins
Are placed quaintly in Mr. Anson’s abode,
And, like a Victorian tea party,
Guests nibble on cucumber quotes and context crusts.

The Wilde-ian group begins to fade
And ghostly gloves flutter from buttery fingers.
I look down at my exam desk, and for lack of content,
I remember this 6.1 symphony.

By Freya Leonard and Alexander Lunn

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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.

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.

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.