Report by drama teacher Mr Petty

On Tuesday 15th January, Year 10 pupils attended the National Theatre’s ‘Anhony and Cleopatra Student Conference’, after which they were joined by other members of the school to watch the evening performance of the play.

Taking place in the Olivier Theatre, the day began with an interactive lecture from Shakespeare academic Dr Nick Walton. His talk, ‘Shakespeare’s Original Performance Conditions’, focused on key differences between Elizabethan theatre and the tech-heavy 21st century space in which we were sat. Pupils were asked to think about the challenges of staging Shakespeare during Elizabethan times without the aid of electric lighting, extensive costume and elaborate scene changes. It was brilliant to see pupils drawing comparisons between the two time periods and starting to question why society deems it important to stage Shakespeare today.

Next was a Q&A with the production’s associate director Emily Burns and two main members of the cast. One of our students asked about the actors’ process of creating a character. Pupils were given in depth answers from the two performers about how they draw from their own experience in order to identify with the characters they play.  

This was followed by the most exciting part of the conference – a rare opportunity to see the actors at work in the rehearsal space. Led by Emily Burns, the workshop focused on how to approach understanding Shakespeare’s language, and demonstrated how ‘paraphrasing’ and ‘actioning’ techniques can bring the words to life. There was an especially memorable moment where one pupil paraphrased Octavia’s line, “I understand not, madam”, to the colloquial, “Come again, miss?”. Needless to say, the actor of Octavia much preferred our student’s improvement on Shakespeare’s rather subservient line.

Finally, after a trip to Pizza Express where we met up with the rest of our party, we went back into the theatre to see the performance. It was not only brilliant to see Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo take on two of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles, the students were also blown away by the scale of the National Theatre’s production. We switched from Rome, to Egypt and back again. A submarine emerged from the depths of the stage and bangs and flashes peppered the fight scenes. All in all, it was a tremendous production and a tremendous day. One that I hope the students will remember for a long time to come.