Event Review: Lower Sixth Scripted Performances Challenge and Impress
This week has seen Bede’s Lower Sixth Theatre Studies classes formally assessed by an external examiner as part of their A Level course.
Tasked with performing a scripted work in their first year of the A Level and then a devised piece in the Upper Sixth, this year’s cohort both chose modern plays for their assessments and – in Bede’s Drama department style – presented these exam pieces as fully, realised, imaginatively-performed, Thrust-staged productions.
While delivering the pieces at the standard they did has no doubt made for a fraught and stressful time for the students, everyone else in the Bede’s community has benefitted; with two new innovative productions to attend across our afternoons and evenings, we have been rather spoiled.
First-off, the larger of the two groups, made up of George Rice, Toby Wallace, Josh Knight, Charlie Belton, James Baxter, Max Rubens, Rosalind Manning, Lillie Skerman and Ambra Fuller, staged Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988, Olivier Award-winning ‘Our Country’s Good.’
A perennially popular play about the original penal colony established in Sydney Cove, Australia, the drama addresses a huge raft of social issues from class to gender to fate to redemption, and the cast did an incredible job both in performance and staging.
With the plot hinging on a play-within-the-play being staged by officers and their convicted wards, the cast toyed thoughtfully with the idea of the roles we all play; a mix of cross-gender casting and multi-character performances made for a heady blend of audacious social commentary, imaginative staging and powerful acting.
James Baxter, for example, managed to subtly embody the roles of Ketch, Arscott and Campbell in ways which were not grandstanding but that showed true emotional depth, playing both with power and the damaged psychology of all three characters. Similarly, Charlie Belton’s Dabby Bryant and Reverend Johnson were both very separate entities, but both were portrayed in rounded, thoughtful ways that were at times humorous and others bleak.
Exuding extraordinary presence, Toby Wallace did an exceptional job playing Sideways, as did Ambra Fuller with her brooding, broken Liz Morden who felt consistently vulnerable and threatening.
Lillie Skerman’s fantastic Duckling Smith provided depth and real chemistry with Joshua Knight’s thoughtfully-personified Harry, while George, Max and Rosalind all added genuine richness to their characters which filled out a vivid and intriguing community.
Possibly most powerful of all however was the careful construction and staging of the drama. Clearly influenced by Brechtian dramatic theory, the actors stepped in and out of role in full view and used props, costumes and furniture to create moments which were symbolically and figuratively significant. A production which required audiences to work, think and take an active part in the viewing process, it was an exciting thing to witness.
The smaller Lower Sixth group meanwhile, which consisted of Rhys Clarke as ‘A’, Freddie Stanley as ‘B’, Fleur Reynolds as ‘C’ and Anne Kato as ‘M’, performed Sarah Kane’s one-act play ‘Crave.’
First staged in 1998, the Complicité-influenced drama offers little context on the page, no stage directions or character descriptions and tackles a number of dark themes including eating disorders, suicide, sexual and drug abuse and murder.
With the group showing no fear in the face of such challenging material, using only 4 stools as props and unifying costume colours to stylise the piece, each delivered performances which required audiences to keep on their toes.
Swerving from casual and quiet to histrionic to abstract and disturbing, each performer brought a huge amount to their roles and worked generously with one another to deliver a layered, thoughtful production which was simultaneously spare and generous.
Considering the obscure and alienating nature of the play itself, the cast deserve significant credit for forging believably human performances out of such open raw materials, challenging audiences with a production designed to live in the mind long after the lights went down.
Full credit for the quality of both of these productions must, of course, go to the students; minimal support from both Bede’s Director of Drama Mrs Lewis and the group’s other teacher, Mrs Goldring, gave the individuals involved a huge amount of rope, and with this freedom the actors formed a high-wire which they walked with confidence and poise.
All in all, therefore, despite this year’s Upper Sixth soon leaving and taking with them their admirable talents, the future of Senior Drama seems to be in very capable hands. Bravo!