'Oi Juliet, get yer tits out!'

17th November 2006 at 00:00
Disaster seemed inevitable when Tanya Marshall took teenagers from her pupil referral unit to the theatre in Stratford

It's madness"I "gosh... you're brave... or mad... or both!" Why the words of caution and sharp intakes of breath? All I had planned was to take a Year 11 class to Stratford to see Romeo and Juliet.

I work in a key stage 4 pupil referral unit in Fenland, Cambridgeshire; our kids collect Asbos the way some collect trading cards.

I've worked there for just over a year, having spent the rest of my career in mainstream school. I trained as a history teacher, and have always been keen on pupils "experiencing history", so when I found myself teaching English to a group of eight pupils who proudly told me they were "unteachable", I decided to encourage them to experience as many things as possible that might be beyond their normal mindset.

I chose Romeo and Juliet for their GCSE English coursework as it is a cracking story full of teenage love and violence - right up their street.

When I told them I would be taking them to watch a play by Shakespeare the news was greeted with shouts of "It's shit!", and "I ain't goin' to see no fuckin' Shakespeare bollocks!"

Then came the Ofsted inspection. The inspector loved the idea and even mentioned it in his report... bugger.

Before the visit we watched, inevitably, the Baz Luhrmann version, and I was relatively pleased at their response.

Most managed to watch all of it without being too awful. They only shouted out a few times. It wasn't the shouting out that was the problem, more what they said: "Oi Juliet, get yer tits out!" Oh dear God, what am I doing - I must be off my rocker.

The day arrived. I barely slept the night before while visions of being thrown out of the theatre, arrested, or worse, danced around my head.

We arrived about 45 minutes before the play started, so we had a wander around the gardens.

The kids stood out like sore thumbs. Their reactions were fascinating. Some became very quiet and overwhelmed, and others expressed their uncertainty by becoming extremely loud, making comments to others walking around.

Nothing really rude, but just enough to cause people to stare.

One pupil insisted on telling everyone they passed that we were all common and that everyone else in Stratford was very posh. My heart was in my mouth. Only a few more minutes until the play... It was time to go in. Suddenly they all seemed like frightened bunny rabbits. Only two had been to the theatre before, and it showed. We took our places. Two of the kids told me they were going to play "Bogies" (a game on television in which the aim is to shout "Bogies" at the top of your voice at the most inappropriate moment). I shot them a look that said "You dare, and you're walking back."

The first half went by with only a few hitches. There was a little talking from a couple of the kids, and I had to leave with two just before the end as they were desperate for the toilet. We got a few looks, but all things considered, it could have been worse.

We went back in for the second half. As we took our seats somebody from the row in front complained to us about the kids. I wanted the world to open up and swallow me.

The second half had them enthralled. They clapped and clapped at the end, and as we left the theatre they were all buzzing with excitement and wonder. We got back to the minibus and I told them that their essay was "Who was to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?" and they argued and discussed it with passion and vigour. Result! Their thanks and gratitude at the end were genuine and heart-felt, and when one of them told me he would remember the trip for the rest of his life, I believed him.

One of them said to me that he thought I was crying at the end of the play.

I said it was tears of relief that we had made it without getting thrown out.

We did, however, get banned from Tesco in Stratford. But that's another story Tanya Marshall teaches at a pupil referral unit in Fenland, Cambridgeshire

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