Shakespeare in Oxford

Last week we were Shaking Up Shakespeare in Oxford. We spent a week at Bayards Hill Primary School working on a performance of ‘Macbeth’ with Years 3 & 4. Duly, on Friday afternoon, 120 actors aged 7 to 9, took to the stage and delivered an unexpectedly cracking show. I use the word ‘unexpectedly’ with reason – it was unexpectedly good for the children, the parents, the teachers and for Richard and I at FINDING THE WILL. A Shakespeare project week such as this is bread and butter for us, but what made this week so special, was the journey made by every single child. I’ll say it up front – we are dead proud of them..

Say Oxford and automatically you think University, money, boat race, dons and cutting edge hospitals – you don’t automatically think of one the most deprived areas in the country. However, as the visionary Head Teacher Mrs Medley said to us last Monday morning, the children here deserve the same quality of all round education as the children of more middle class families just across the roundabout in other richer parts of the city. And so we began……
Now I’m not pretending it was an easy week, far from it. We had tempers and tantrums, tears and sulking (mainly from the children, although………….I jest). Working with children from disparate backgrounds is always a challenge. Throw into the mix the fact they don’t know us or how we work and the stress levels of everyone involved begin to rise! But what courage some of these children showed in the face of adversity. Those who spoke little or no English, those with the tiniest voices in the world, those who had to cope with the disappointment of not getting the role they wanted. By the way why didn’t Shakespeare think this through and write 15 cracking parts in every scene? I admit there was a point in the week where we wondered if our tried and tested formula would work. Could we turn this rowdy yet lovable bunch of 7-9 year olds into a respectable theatre company with the ability to perform one of the greatest plays ever written in four days? The answer, thankfully, was yes.

As the week progressed all the children became more and more engaged in the process of putting on a show TOGETHER. Their self-esteem began to rise. The realisation that focus and listening really was the key to their individual success began to dawn on them, so that by Friday they were able to tap into ‘calm mode’ and even step into new roles to cover for absentees. On Friday they had to listen and concentrate intensely three times, once for the dress rehearsal, once for the preview performance to the rest of the school and once for the parents. The excitable audiences at the performances bizarrely served to prove how important listening and focusing skills really are, and I’m glad to report that the actors used them most effectively. The greatest joy for us was seeing the look of pride on the children’s faces at the end, knowing they had achieved something they probably never thought possible. And yes, there were a couple of moments when we wondered too!
This was, without doubt, one of the toughest weeks we have had in almost ten years of FINDING THE WILL, but strangely it was also one of the most rewarding. Mrs Medley, the insightful Head Teacher, whom we know from her previous school, is passionate about turning this school and these children’s lives around, and it is a real privilege to be part of this vision. So thank you Bayards Hill Primary (children, teachers, TAs, parents) and Mrs Medley for trusting us, accepting us and allowing us to weave our magic as part of your epic journey. We hope to be back next year to continue the ride!


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