If the English department of the Smith’s Wood Academy wanted for their students to have an experience of Shakespeare to surpass the recent- and very successful- Shakespeare workshop (reported last month), there was only going to be one way to do it: see a live performance of Romeo and Juliet, the play they are studying. As if that wasn’t enough, the venue would naturally be the best place in the world to see a Shakespeare play, London’s renowned Globe theatre!
All our students study a Shakespeare play at Key Stage 3, with Romeo and Juliet chosen this year partly because they can identify with the protagonists being about the same age as themselves. Of course, this also meant that a chance to see this particular play at the Globe would be highly relevant and the best possible inspiration. A trip was duly organised by Mrs Watt who, along with Mrs Meachin and two other assisting adults, took 40 of our Y7 and 8 students to London. For most of them this was their first experience of live theatre, and an enthralling experience it proved to be.
Before the theatre, our party visited the Golden Hinde, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in the sixteenth century. It was here that Mrs Meachin’s expertise in history provided the children with unexpected and fascinating facts and insights while everyone had a chance to stretch their legs after the coach journey. Unfortunately, we had a bit less time than anticipated, because the coach driver had managed to get us lost in London for a while! This this also meant less free time for our students than we originally planned, but happily it was the only problem on the day and it did not seem to mar their enjoyment.
Then we travelled a short distance along the Thames to the Globe Theatre. The building is an authentic recreation of the original theatre where Shakespeare’s works were performed in his own time, totally unique and a great opportunity for our students to taste the excitement, and feel the sense of history, as the play unfolded. The circular theatre has a wonderful atmosphere; the middle part, where the “groundlings” (standing audience) are, is open to the sky and actually used by the actors in some of the scenes. This involves the crowd almost as if they are part of the cast, and creates an unparalleled immediacy, with few theatres able to give the audience such a sense of participation or engagement. Our students were no less involved than the groundlings, but a lot more comfortable, in premium seats and with a view of Juliet’s balcony that made it seem they could reach out and touch it.
This particular rendition of Romeo and Juliet was a well thought out version and perfect for the many school parties attending; a fast paced performance purposely designed to introduce families and students to a Shakespeare play for the first time. It famously tells the story of two young lovers from rival families, forbidden to see each other by their warring parents. Juliet is being willed to marry another man but it proves impossible to keep Romeo away. They soon run away and marry in secret, leading to a tragedy that results in their death and their parents’ sorrow. The performance was gripping, the delivery accessible, and the teachers thought it exceeded expectations. As for the students, they were completely swept up in it.
All too soon, the play reached its tragic conclusion, and our party set off for home with excitement still buzzing in the coach. It was a long day, nearly twelve hours start to finish by the time the coach got back at 7.20pm, but well worth every minute; this was amply reflected in the feedback since received by Mrs Watt. Every one of the students handed in their review with a resoundingly favourable verdict. Overall, the trip could be seen in many ways: as a fun day out, as a huge boost to classroom teaching, as a tremendous cultural experience, as an inspiring introduction to the works of Shakespeare, as a memorable occasion, as a chance for staff and students to interact outside the classroom. From any perspective it was valuable to the young people lucky enough to attend, and when Romeo and Juliet next appears in an English lesson, these students are ready! Perhaps the best testament was simply one of the students commenting, “it was so good, we want to do it again!”.
With that in mind we might paraphrase Romeo from act 1, scene 5 and say, not farewell to the Globe, but adieu! We will try to run a similar trip again next year.
Smith’s Wood Academy wishes to gratefully acknowledge Deutsche Bank for their sponsorship. Thanks also to Mrs Watt and the other staff involved in the trip, and to parents for their support. Not least, congratulations to the students for living up to our high expectations and representing the school so well.