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23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Harewood House offers a stately setting for a variety of school workshops. Kevin Berry joins students filming Shakespeare.

Film directors, camera operators, set designers and actors are arriving at Harewood House, a magnificent stately home eight miles north of Leeds. They all look incredibly young but they are not a costume drama crew from the BBC but a group of Year 9 students from Tong Upper School in Bradford.

They are here at Harewood (pronounced Harwood) to take part in From Text to Life, a regular spring workshop that aims to widen understanding of Shakespeare. It is also hoped the session will help with their forthcoming SATs.

The three groups of students have to choose a film location for a short extract from Twelfth Night. The scene has Duke Orsino advising Viola, who is in man's attire, that women should marry men older than themselves. The pair will eventually of course marry each other.

Each group must plan camera positions and shots and dress the set and their actors using ideas from portraits, furniture and backgrounds from any of Harewood's splendidly appointed rooms or gardens. On hand to guide them are Unlimited Theatre, one of the most respected young theatre companies in the country.

Not simply actors, Unlimited Theatre are well versed in all aspects of theatre and film. The students soon discover they are exacting taskmasters who insist that every choice must be explained and justified. "Hang on" says Chris Thorpe, from Unlimited Theatre. "Why is Orsino walking all the way round that chair?" "So that he can show himself off. He's arrogant and full of himself and she can see his bum," comes the reply.

The students find the themes of unrequited love and things not being as they seem have many echoes in the house. What appears to be a wall of bookshelves is really a door. Some are intrigued by Sir Joshua Reynold's portrait of Lady Worsley dressed in a feminine version of her husband's military uniform. The scarlet is appropriate. She was divorced because her husband accused her of "being in criminal conversation with certain gentlemen in the bath house" - 18th century speak for adultery.

One of the groups includes a chess set to emphasise the idea that Orsino and Viola are playing a game. To enhance the scene further, the designers want to include a mirror so that three candles on a table will become six to emphasise that all is not what it seems.

Outside the house, another group has the action confined to a small balcony on the magnificent terrace. The director and her staff want to show intimacy but long shots will be used to give the scene a romantic potential. The terrace is dripping with statues, in grounds designed by Capability Brown on one of his very best days.

At the end of the session, three Orsinos and three Violas have interpreted the same scene in their own way. The exact locations and props may have differed but in each case, the use of Harewood's treasures proved inspiring.

From Text to Life costs pound;6 per pupil. Other Harewood workshops include music-making, myth-making and contemporary dance (with the Phoenix Dance Company). All use the Harewood collections and grounds for inspiration and all have expert tutors.

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