Wacky race across the Bard

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Ten thousand children in world record attempt to perform alternative versions of Shakespeare's plays simultaneously.

Stephen Lucas reports

A dodgy samosa finishes off Hamlet's father and Richard III is cast as a motor mechanic in wacky versions of the Bard's plays set to be staged simultaneously across Britain by thousands of pupils.

Ten thousand children from 400 schools will be treading the boards in One Night of Shakespeare at 100 professional theatres on Sunday.

The night is a collaboration between the BBC, as part of its year-long celebration of Shakespeare, and the Shakespeare Schools Festival.

It is a massive boost to the five-year-old festival in which schools from across Britain perform abridged Shakespeare plays at theatres over three weeks each October. Past productions have included Julius Caesar set in a nightclub, with Caesar as the resident DJ, and a musical version of Macbeth.

If all goes smoothly on July 3, a new world record will be set for the most Shakespeare plays performed simultaneously.

Pupils at Stepney Green, a boys' secondary in east London, will perform a version of Hamlet set in Brick Lane, at the Cochrane theatre, central London.

The king will be poisoned by a samosa, and Ophelia will clutch a mobile phone and tell Hamlet: "I have many texts of yours that I have longed to delete."

Kathryn Taburet, head of English, said: "The majority of pupils are Bangladeshi so we decided to set it in Brick Lane. When the players perform the dumb show it is done in the style of a Bollywood mime. We called it a mime because if we called it a dance it might have put the boys off."

The 13 plays being performed use the scripts from Shakespeare, the Animated Tales, a series of 12 adaptations in cartoon format, plus Tom Stoppard's abridged version of The Merchant of Venice.

A cast of 24 Year 7-10 boys from King Edward VI grammar school, in Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Bard was a pupil, will perform Richard III at Stratford's Swan theatre.

Perry Mills, assistant head and head of expressive arts, said: "It is set in a garage mechanic's workshop. The tyres are used as thrones, chairs and weapons. They attack each other with them. It gets very mucky as there is grease and oil all over the place."

Shipston high, in Shipston on Stour, Warwickshire, is putting on The Tempest at the Swan. In a break with Elizabethan tradition, where boy actors took female roles, Prospero and Ariel will be played by female pupils.

Over the next two weeks pupils will take part in acting workshops run by the National Youth Theatre, the Scottish Youth Theatre, the National Youth Theatre of Wales and the Ulster Association of Youth Drama.

Chris Grace, the director of the Shakespeare Schools Festival and the executive producer of Shakespeare, the Animated Tales, said: "When teachers are confident enough to let children go with their ideas it gets exciting.

The stories you hear are batty but fun. I know of one school this year where the boy playing Macbeth has been excluded and the cast has gone on strike and are refusing to rehearse until he is reinstated."

* newsdesk@tes.co.uk

What's on

Romeo and Juliet

Twelfth Night

Othello

As You Like It

Hamlet

The Tempest

The Taming of the Shrew

Julius Caesar

Macbeth

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Winter's Tale

Richard III

The Merchant of Venice

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