Shakespeare Festival - As You Like It

28th November 2018

In this doom-laden world of cuts to education budgets and therefore to the breadth of subjects covered, in conjunction with the arts-starved English Baccalaureate, thank goodness our school is one who sees beyond these “teach only the essentials” restrictions and knows the value of the arts, and how they can affect and shape individual students, as well as promoting disciplines and teamwork not found in the curriculum. Close on the heels of the in-school House Drama competition comes the annual Shakespeare School Foundation’s “Shakespeare Festival”, which sees over 30,000 school students each year participating in Shakespearean plays, all over the country. But there were fewer schools taking part from Thanet this year, and we even had an Ashford company performing on the same evening as us.

Our students were directed, in As You Like It, by year 13’s Sarah Villaseanor, together with Mrs Magill and Miss Nash. Each school is given a script of the entire play, abridged to (theoretically) half-an-hour. They rehearse at school, but, during at the end of last half-term, had a workshop at the theatre (Margate’s Theatre Royal), working with the foundation’s staff.

On “the day” (21st November for us), a tech and dress rehearsal are run for each of that day’s performances, helped by the same staff we saw at the workshop. We were fortunate this year in being there in the morning, on our own, so there was no waiting around, we had the undivided attention of all the staff, and a good break before the evening’s performance.

Three productions were performed that evening. The order was only announced shortly before the evening began, but, as expected, we were to go last (being the only senior school that night)… Furley Park Primary Academy opened the evening with a delightfully humorous performance of Twelfth Night. St.Peter-in-Thanet CofE Junior School followed with a stunning interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing. I have seen previous productions by this school, directed by their inspirational Jane Websper, and they never fail to delight. This one was stunning to look at as well as every child in it being so professional, committed and well-disciplined. Quite a hard act to follow!

But… after the interval, follow them we did, and with much style, pace, ingenuity and good humour.

The action had been shifted to the 1960s and the students were suitably garbed, with use of the Beatles etc between and during scenes. A clever variety of uses of long bamboo canes provided all the set needed, and the younger members of the cast (years 8-13 took part) doubled up as wrestling ring corners, prop shifters and even sheep… There were some excellent performances, notably from the central three. The cousins Rosalind and Celia were played by the versatile Sam Gerlack (yr.12) (who is then disguised as the male Ganymede), giving such a natural and convincing performance, and Eve Blythe-Adam (yr.11) who had been very ill all evening and astonished with a performance in which one would have never known; truly professional. Joanna Attwell (only year 9) gave a towering performance as the “hero” Orlando. Mayan Davies and Poppy Head were delightful as the comic lovers, Audrey and Touchstone, and Daisy Shingles and Jasmine Watson provided more comedy-with-pathos as Silvius and Phebe. Others of the cast included Lola Fox-Wallace’s jealous Oliver and Lea Smith as the thwarted wrestler. Again, there was good team-work, and I was happy that, as prompter, I wasn’t need once!

Long may drama and all the arts continue to thrive in our school.

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