You can’t beat live theatre when studying a text for school says Harry Mottram. And he offers some productions of interest to schools this spring
Students studying drama as part of English Literature GCSE and A Level courses have a number of shows to see at the theatre this year.
Yes there’s been a row about whether students even need to visit a theatre to see a live play or whether they can make do with a live screening instead, but unless the school is on an island in the middle of the Atlantic it should be possible for the teachers to organise a trip to see at least one of the plays being studied.
The AQA board list the Shakespeare plays of Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale as part of the Love Through The Ages theme, while OCR include in their section on pre 1900 drama the plays of Coriolanus, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Richard III, The Tempest and Twelfth Night. And Macbeth is on the reading list for the IGCSE this year.
The National Theatre in London is staging Macbeth this spring (and it will also be screened live in May) at the Olivier Theatre running from February 28. While they will also have a production aimed at younger children of A Winter’s Tale at the Dorfman Theatre from February 14-28. Macbeth is also being staged from February 22 to April 7 at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol and there’s also a production of the Scottish play at the Royal Shakespeare company in Stratford-upon-Avon from March 13 to September 18 with a live broadcast on April 11.
The Unicorn Theatre in London has a production of Othello on from February 3 – March 3, especially created for children. The theatre said: “Inspired by William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, this is a modern, funny and inspired play by Belgian playwright Ignace Cornelissen (Henry the Fifth, The Hunting Lodge) that brings the story of Othello to life for younger audiences and reflects on the nature of relationships, friendships and how our flaws and feelings can blind us to the truth.”
Hamlet will tread the boards this spring with a production by the Royal Shakespeare company that will be taking a tour of the play to Salford, Plymouth, Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Northampton between January and March 2018, before transferring to London’s Hackney Empire between 6 and 31 March 2018. In contrast to the blood and near madness of Hamlet the RSC’s production of the comedy Twelth Night continues in Stratford-upon-Avon until February 28th, with a live screening on St Valentine’s at cinemas across the country.
Some of the texts listed by the examination board are novels and these are often staged – albeit in adapted or abridged versions although they can help a student with the interpretation and themes of the book. George Elliot’s The Mill on the Floss is being staged by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School this summer with a tour of venues across the South West including the Tivoli in Wimborne on July 5th. Meanwhile in Guildford there’s an adaptation for the stage of Jane Austen’s Persuasion by theatre6 at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre And Mill Studio. By their nature adaptions condense a novel, especially the lengthy 19th century novels listed as core texts but nevertheless they are perfect for discussion and analysis afterwards.
Meanwhile in East Kilbride in Scotland Studion 32 are putting on Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls from March 14-17 at the arts centre in the town while at the other end of the British Isles Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is playing at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre from March 23-31 and June 5-16. This revival of the classic play on the list of texts for study this year is co-production with Theatr Clwyd and English Touring Theatre, it will be directed by the winner of this year’s Sir Peter Hall Director Award, Chelsea Walker. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House gets a make-over with an updated version on Thurs 17th May at the Arts Centre in Bromsgrove with an adaption by Theatrical Niche. It may not be the exact text of the play but again with the main theme and driven protagonist the play is ripe for discussion and helps to bring to life the drama for students in the 21st century.
London’s National Theatre has a production of Translations by Brian Friel from May as Ian Rickson directs a cast which includes Colin Morgan in the powerful account of language and nationhood. And another modern text taking a look back at this country’s colonial past that is on the list of texts to study is Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. A production of the drama set in Australia will be on tour at the Nottingham Playhouse, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Sheffield Crucible and Birmingham Rep from March 9, 2018 – June 2, 2018 with the Ramps on the Moon company who integrate disabled actors into their cast. The play is a hardy perennial so you’ll find more than one production including those by amdram and student groups on stage this year – so worth doing a Google search for the play along with the others listed by the examination boards.
This is by no means a complete list of the plays that are available to view this year for students but it shows how many are already being promoted as early as last autumn. Local theatre groups often leave promoting their shows until a few weeks before curtain up so it is worth doing a search even quite late in the term. Some of the best productions are those found locally or performed by colleges where youthful exuberance can inject added energy into a production – and of course the tickets are cheaper.
Studying a play in a classroom can seem dry but seeing it performed live will bring it to life so it is vital to organise a trip to see a show even if it means a long journey and a late night. Writing in October 2013 for the Guardian Lyn Gardner said: “Last week I sat in the Unicorn theatrewatching Ellen McDougall’s superb production of Henry the Fifth, a play which responds to Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Like Shakespeare’s play in which the chorus asks the audience to ‘piece out our imperfections with your thought’ so Ignace Cornelissen’s play is a call to arms for the imagination, getting a young audience to imagine a different world, a different story for themselves, an alternative narrative and to empathise with another point of view.”
And there are other benefits of a visit to a theatre. From experiencing the arts first hand, to visiting a world they may not have entered previously to giving ideas for future projects and even opening up career choices seeing live theatre is impossible to match. YouTube, the cinema and live screenings have their place but exposing children who are studying a text to live theatre can have a transforming affect.
For more children’s theatre visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/?page_id=884