Curtain rises on Chekhov drama

5th March 1999 at 00:00
WARD 6. Ampleforth College video. pound;13. Age range: 14 plus. Distributed by Chelgate. 15 Hays Mews, London W1X 7RR. Tel:0171 629 4433

One school's theatre project has become an inspiring drama on video, reports Shelley Vokes

This one-hour, full costume drama of Ward 6, shot on video, represents the culmination of an extremely ambitious project undertaken by the staff and pupils of Ampleforth College in York which took three years to complete.

The play, adapted by the teaching staff from a short story by the 19th-century Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Ward 6 has never previously been filmed. This video is not simply a live recording of the school's own production but, through the use of sophisticated editing, aspires to be a challenging and polished piece of televisual drama, making excellent use of the available resources and locations.

Set in a hospital prior to the Russian Revolution, the play focuses on a psychiatric doctor, Ragin, who has begun to question his role as the custodian of the mentally ill. Ragin's conversations with Gromov, an intelligent and articulate inmate, deepen his sense of nihilism as he sees rationalism deteriorating at the expense of a corrupt and injudicious bureaucracy.

He comes to the realisation that he is as much a part of an unjust institution as the trite bourgeois officials whom he loathes. The ward becomes a microcosm for the dishonest and anarchic state of pre-Revolutionary Russia.

Despite its historical setting, the play's sinister and shocking denouement poses questions still relevant today concerning definitions and treatment of mental illness. Also raised are issues about the nature of institutions in general and how they treat individuals, an idea which has parallels in the education system. Although the videotape is not released with any accompanying teaching resources, it could be used as a vehicle to discuss such themes.

However, the broader appeal of this project is that it provides an excellent opportunity for schools to witness work that other educational establishments are producing. Many fine pieces of performance are limited to the audience of the school community and it is therefore refreshing that Ampleforth has chosen to give its product a more general release. Such a venture may inspire other schools and colleges to pitch their own productions at a wider audience.

u For information on the project contact William Motley, Theatre Manager, the Green Room, Ampleforth College, York YO6 4ER

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