The past two nights at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York have hosted the Shakespeare Schools Festival, a national drama festival giving school children across the UK the opportunity to perform Shakespeare. On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of seeing three fantastic performances.
First we had Great Ouseburn Community Primary School performing Macbeth directed by Annette Cartwright. A cast dressed minimally in black remained on stage throughout, acting as a chorus giving a modernised narrative to the events of the play–allowing for a mixture of storytelling, Shakespeare, and performance. The stage turned red for an opening battle sequence carefully choreographed before the emergence of the witches (Caitlin Catt, Ruby Flintoft, and Sophie Bedford). The surrounding actors echoed them in whispers as the witches cast their spells before the entrance of Macbeth and Banquo (Archie Ker and Toby Golding). The on-stage cast re-imagined many lines and scenes visually, with group fight sequences and group scenes where not a single actor broke from character. Isabella Royston shone as a fearsome Lady Macbeth.
A slick change-over transported us to Verona in what can best be described as an ensemble version of Romeo and Juliet from Quay Academy directed by Tim Wilson. The opening lines were delivered by the whole cast, and tension was built through shouts, stomps, and sounds between the feuding households. The cast constantly worked together to create large crowds, a tomb, and even a balcony made of actors, candles, and flowers. The eerie music added to the dark, manic atmosphere of a play that was truly brought together by its lively and creative cast.
After the interval, we had St Olave’s School perform Twelfth Night directed by Julia Jones. It opened with a musical number, which included Iris Greaney on the harp. The musical touch lasted throughout as the performance incorporated modern songs performed by musicians and singers from the school. Unlike the last two plays, this performance did not included a modernised narrative, but the actors remained in character, and the story was clear and enjoyable throughout. Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch, and Malvolio (Chris Heijbroek, Isaac Burley, and Tudor Maude) were particularly effective in providing comic relief for the audience.
The Shakespeare Schools festival works with over 1500 schools, working closely with teacher-directors and bringing theatre professionals in for cast workshops and rehearsals with the students. The festival is a registered charity and there are more details on supporting and donating here.