This week was a busy and exciting one for all students involved in the Shakespeare Schools Festival. The week started with an intense day of rehearsal, followed by an afternoon tech and dress at the theatre at Headington School on Tuesday. That evening was our first performance with a packed audience of parents and teachers from d’Overbroeck’s and the other two participating schools.
The excitement was electric backstage as students put the finishing touches to their face paint and checked their props! It was a most extraordinary performance, a testament to students’ professional attitude, excellent focus and detailed preparation. Every single performer gave their best energy to tell this sad, sad story – perhaps the most tragic one in the English language.
This year all technical effects were done by two very technologically astute students: Dominic in charge of lights, and Ollie taking responsibility for sound. Both brought professionalism and expertise to their roles and were in complete control of tech equipment in the theatre.
The eerie blue lights faded up to David Bowie’s bleak instrumental track Warszawa, highlighting the poor neglected beggars under Lear’s despotic rule. All of the cast were on stage for Lear’s dramatic division of his kingdom, a competition between his daughters to see who loved him the most. Our Lear was a female one, played by Agnes, and her daughters were played by Ksenia (Goneril), Amelia (Regan) and Nieve (Cordelia). Clara (Y11) designed the costumes for these characters, constructing beautiful corset garments in gothic colours, perfectly reflecting the dark themes of the play.
The sub-plot is a brotherly rivalry between illegitimate son Edmund (played by Emily D) and legitimate Edgar (played by Emily P). The Duke of Gloucester (played by Tabby) is tangled in Edmund’s cruel manipulation, while Edgar runs away and disguises himself as a beggar, Poor Tom. Perhaps the pinnacle of this tragic strand of the story is when Gloucester is arrested as a traitor, and is brutally tortured by Regan and the twisted Duke of Albany (played by Oscar). This scene certainly caused the most commotion in the audience! Regan came on stage with a record player, summoning the song The Masquerade is Over, which starts with the lyrics ‘Your eyes don’t shine like they used to shine…’ Those of you who know the play will know how this foreshadows Gloucester’s torture… and the plucking out of his eyes, one by one! In our production, the eyes are removed with a corkscrew, and the first eye is tossed casually into Regan’s cocktail glass. The second, rather gruesomely, is eaten by the Duke of Albany!
Perhaps the saddest scene in the play is as Cordelia’s dead body is revealed, carried mournfully by an ensemble of Y8 students. Agnes’s powerful performance culminates in Lear’s own death from grief, lolling hopelessly over the body of the one daughter who truly loved her.
It’s been a wonderful experience to see students rise to the challenge of this demanding text. I’d like to thank all of the students who helped behind the scenes – especially Cara and Arrabella for running props – it was like clockwork backstage! Minnie and Ella have worked hard embellishing costumes, and Cassidy is behind the wonderful map of Lear’s kingdom.
Thank you to all the teachers who have chaperoned rehearsals, workshop days and performances – Helen Stacey, Rachel Thannasoulis, Sarah McSwiggan and Wendy Rawding. Thank you to fellow drama teachers Fizza Hussain and Joe Swarbrick for all you’ve done to help – especially help with choosing just the right music, and just the right fruit to represent an eyeball. Joe, you were an excellent violence consultant!
Here are some comments from students about their experience on the show:
‘I have absolutely LOVED doing Shakespeare Schools! My favourite moments were dancing backstage with Amelia before the ‘lychee scene’, doing make up, and when the audience laughed because Tabby didn’t have any eyes! I ran out of rose petals in my final battle with Edgar – but it was all great!’ – Emily P
‘Our show was the best!’ – Oscar
‘I feel that before Shakespeare Schools I didn’t know King Lear at all, but now it’s become one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. I really enjoyed the chance to play Edmund, and see everyone I know as nice people act totally cruelly as characters. Some favourite moments include when a projector screen came down on my head in the workshop, discovering I get to wear a cape, repeatedly forgetting to exit stage right for scene 10 and discussing strange survival tips backstage. The eye gouging scene was the crowning moment of the whole experience. All I can say is I don’t think Oscar will be eating lychees again for a very long time! I wish we could do SSF next year. I could do it again and again!’ – Emily D
‘I loved working on King Lear! Everyone got on so well and we all had so much fun. Some of my favourite memories are dancing backstage whenever we felt nervous, and playing High School Musical songs! I have made so many few friends and loved every minute we were working on the play. I wish I could do Shakespeare Schools again and I am so happy I did it this year. It’s like I have a second family now and I hope we all stay really good friends. I am going to miss rehearsals!’ – Tabby
English & Drama Teacher