On the 12th of July the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse will be surrendered to a pair of warring Dukes; a flock of love-sick shepherds; some aristocrats with a penchant for cross-dressing; a man who likes to set fire to things; a really miserable poet; a forest; a deer; and an entirely unexpected lion.
Oh, and 62 school children.
This piece of merry mania is part of Our Theatre, a community project supported by the Harris Foundation for Lifelong Learning, which will see three mainstream secondary schools, one special educational needs school and one adult drama group perform everyone’s favourite sheep-centric Shakespearean comedy, As You Like It. All of the groups are based in the borough of Southwark, and they will perform the play in their school or community spaces, and in the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (notable for its Jacobean, gold-rimmed gorgeousness, but also – this week – for its really excellent air conditioning).
The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse performance will see each group perform a single act of the play, with the dramatis personae being provided by:
Act 1 – Sacred Heart Catholic School
Act 2 – The People’s Company
Act 3 – Spa School (whose in-school performance featured a bubble machine, which should be a compulsory element of all performances of Shakespeare from now on).
Act 4 – University Academy of Engineering South Bank
Act 5 – ARK Walworth Academy
The groups have been rehearsing for the last eleven weeks (under the expert tutelage of their school drama teachers, and of the Globe Education Practitioner assigned to each group), and this process has been documented by 16 undergraduate photography students from London South Bank University, whose work will be on display as an exhibition alongside the performance on Thursday.
Our Theatre is a fabulous opportunity for young people (and not so young people) to perform in front of an audience in a professional theatre; to become familiar with a complete Shakespeare play (Shakespeare has – alongside a few other accolades – the distinction of being the only named author on the GCSE syllabus); and to meet and mix with other people from across their home borough. We were all incredibly proud of this (and rightly so), but then we read a bit of the programme submitted by Simon Humphreys, the Head of Drama at Spa School (a school for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders), which made us all think a bit:
“Many people believe Autism prevents emotional attachment, and impedes social behaviour, but I know that my students completely negate that with their honest and empathetic performances, that hopefully will stay with you long after the show, and inform your future friendships with autistic people”
Much as we love to do our bit for the cause of opening up the worlds of Shakespeare and theatre (and we love it very much), we hope that Our Theatre will be able to achieve something even more.
Photography: Our Theatre 2016, Cesare De Giglio