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Friday's child;Features amp; Arts

Cassandra Hilland on...a trip to see Hamlet.

Set 3B are studying Hamlet for A-level. They've been working flat out, trying to master the text. But now things are flagging a little. It's difficult. So much to remember. Such a long play. How does that scene connect to that one?

This is where seeing a performance really comes into its own. Nothing beats seeing a dramatic text "brought to life". Tell them about Hamlet and they will forget. But let them see him and they will understand. Set 3B are getting excited. They're going up to London! At night!

It is at about this point that teacher Mr Wilkie mutates from subject specialist to social events manager. Suddenly, he's writing persuasive flyers for 3B to take home to their parents marketing the virtues of a play he's never seen. Students are harassed by their normally peaceful teacher for the return of (a) hard cash and (b) the essential consent form. "No pay, no play" becomes Wilkie's mantra. 3B wonder if he's undergoing a personality change Organising a theatre trip takes more time than most people think. Mr Wilkie's in luck this year. Most of 3B return their cheques and forms quickly. After all, it's going to be fun! And they might "get it better" if they see it on stage.

Emma and Sara pay for their tickets especially early. "Girly swots!" the others cry. "Yeah", they retort, "but have you seen the hunk playing Fortinbras? Phwoar!" Soon another 10 tickets are sold.

Jude mulls it over for a while. He wonders whether or not to wait until next week, when his other friends are going. Nigel isn't convinced that Hamlet is a "performable" play, so can he leave it until next week? He wants to re-read a few scenes before deciding.

It's 6.10pm in the college car park, and five minutes before the coach leaves. Mr Wilkie is stressed. He has three tickets left. Three people can't make it and have thoughtfully told him, hoping he can sell on their places. He's phoned Jessie, Alex and Darren, who asked to be put on the waiting list. They should be here any minute.

At 10.30pm the coach is homebound and buzzing with conversation. It was a good production. Fortinbras was sexy all right. But there's more to it than that - Mr Wilkie notes with relief that students who had previously looked a little confused in lessons now seem confident. 3B are leaning over each other's seats and discussing the play, making connections they hadn't made before and weighing up each other's views. Mr Wilkie only hopes they can discuss the play this well on paper in their forthcoming exam. He knows they're all capable.

Not all theatre trips work so well. But even bad experiences can be educational. A colleague organised a trip to see Oedipus Rex - a production the students hated. They stayed in the cafe after the interval, slating the play and explaining why they disliked it to a friendly gent who sat next to them. My colleague returned to find his absent students sounding off to the play's director - Peter Hall. Something learnt, at least. After all, the play's the thing.

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