Tag Archives: claremont school

Happy Birthday Shakespeare, a project by bloggers around the world

Shakespeare is a man for all ages. If you tried Ben Jonson’s rave review on your average school student they probably wouldn’t agree, instead the very name William Shakespeare could be enough to make them look confused, yawn with boredom, or tremble with fear. If you sat them down in front of a play, however, they just might believe it.

In January 2010 I joined the eight to twelve-year-olds of Claremont School, Kingsbury, as the Royal Shakespeare Company performed a seventy-minute version of Hamlet. Black and Asians pupils made up most of the audience, and many were watching Shakespeare (and even theatre) for the first time. Children are the harshest critics, but this group offered their undivided attention and had absolutely nothing negative to say at the end.

I, a Hamlet virgin, joined them. I was reminded of when I’d make my way to the Oxford Playhouse as a young teenager, often surrounded by an older white middle-class crowd.  I felt out of place. But once the action started, and the jester laughed, lovers kissed, siblings reunited, there was nothing differentiating me from everyone else.

So if someone were to ask: what does Shakespeare mean to you? Shakespeare breaks down barriers. Everyone, including the pupils of Claremont School and myself, can be transported into his world.

Years later from being in the Oxford Playhouse, I went on to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was responsible for attracting new audiences to the theatre, and have continued to seek out weird and wonderful Shakespeare plays, seeing his work danced, rapped, and even tweeted. A man for all ages? Certainly.

Written as a part of Happy Birthday Shakespeare, runs till April 30.


Hamlet, at Claremont School

pull my finger...

It’s often forgotten amongst schoolchildren that Shakespeare is supposed to be seen live and not simply read. As a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stand Up For Shakepeare campaign schools across London, including Kingsbury, Southall, Harrow, Wembley, and Hounslow, were treated to a performance of Hamlet and a drama workshop. In Claremont School, Kingsbury, this Hamlet virgin joined students aged eight to twelve years old, who were largely black and Asian, that were also watching Hamlet (or even theatre) for the first time.

The play is edited by Bijan Sheibani and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, winner of the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Playwright award. McCraney says: “Shakespeare is for all people. Hamlet is a great play to tour schools as it deals directly with young people and their families.” Here classic drama meets popular culture: Hamlet is cut to seventy minutes, has shortened soliloquies, snippets of Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold, and audience participation. This maybe the PG-rated Hamlet, but it is just as exciting. And Dharmesh Patel, with his boyish good looks and endless energy, creates a multifaceted Hamlet.

The main attraction, however, comes from the audience: the children. They reacted to the play more than the adults and remind us of Shakespeare’s accessibility, be it with their fascination at Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech or fear at the Ghost’s eerie presence. All of them offered their undivided attention and had nothing negative to say about the performance, which in turn challenges the argument that Shakespeare is for the elite or educated. Well now, if only we were all lucky enough to watch the RSC at school.

Joins the repertoire in The Courtyard Theatre from 1 May 2010.

To see or not to see: * * * *

Read a report in the March issue of Asian Woman magazine