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Winning over reluctant Bardists

Everybody loves the wrong people," Sarah Gordon tells the Year 6 class at Chesterfield Juniors in Enfield, north London. She and Christopher Geelan, who are Buttonhole Theatre, are unravelling the confusions and delights of Twelfth Night as well as exploring the poetry and characterisations with primary children around the country.

The children are engaged from the start. Former teacher Sarah Gordon makes a point of it. She introduces the characters one by one, gets volunteers to play them (a young Malvolio obliges by standing with his nose high in the air) and bit by bit the story is told. All children are involved in interpretation, in guessing what comes next, in suggesting solutions to dilemmas, in empathising with the central characters, allowing them to get behind the language to absorb the emotional truths.

Buttonhole offers a wide range of plays appropriate for primary school-aged children. The school-based workshops precede a visit to a local theatre, where all the schools who have taken part in the programme will watch a specially adapted version of the play professionally staged.

A pioneer of taking Shakespeare to primary schoolchildren, Sarah Gordon's non-patronising methodologies for winning over even the most voluble anti-Bardists have been tried, tested and proven successful with children as young as seven.

When you watch an otherwise macho boy bow with five flourishes to Lady Olivia without a smirk in sight, or hear a girl read out a letter she's just made up from Olivia to Malvolio, in which she promises that if he wears yellow stockings, "then we'll become an item", and watch the respectfulness with which it is received by the rest of the class, you know something rather special has happened.

Buttonhole Theatre Company is touring nationally with Macbeth workshops next term. Contact 0181-888 1494.

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