Drama Pupils Hit Home

A stunning performance about homelessness ensured top GCSE practical exam marks for all Shiplake’s Year 11 Drama pupils this week. The external moderator commented that the piece was of A Level standard and agreed that two pupils in particular deserved A* Grades.

“Home” was an adaptation of a play by Nadia Falls, recently performed at the National Theatre, and depicted the bleak prospects and backgrounds of people living on the streets of London. Shiplake’s pupils worked hard to perform a physically demanding piece while also delivering emotionally charged monologues to a rapt audience.

Jordan Gibson, Billy Sayers, James Hargreaves, Connor Cummings, Will Berks, Angus Meldrum, Tom Thomson, George Atkinson and James Martin also performed the show three times this week, including two lunchbox theatres.

Drama teacher, Jenny Unwin, said: “The boys worked incredibly hard. They absolutely deserve top grades. We are so, so, proud of them, and we are lucky enough to be teaching some of them at A Level next year.”

The marks are 60% of the final GCSE grade so the students are now working hard to get equally good marks in their summer written exam.

A full gallery is available below (click the left and right arrows to scroll through the images).

Sand Dance Performance at The Royal Oak, Ruscombe

Old Vikings Nick Harper and Freddie Greaves, accompanied by Louise Rapple on the piano, will be performing THE SAND DANCE, written by Catherine Saker,  for one night only at the Royal Oak in Ruscombe.

The performance begins at 7pm on Tuesday 10th December. There will be a collection for Berkshire Air Ambulance.

It promises to be a hilarious and enjoyable evening. All are welcome and please contact any other Old Vikings who you feel may be interested in case they have missed this post. Please click here to see the event poster. 

Street Dancing in the Tithe Barn

Shiplake Drama students were praised for their effort during a recent street dance and physical theatre workshop.

Rudolf Hamburg, a dancer with the internationally acclaimed Nobulus dance company, said: “This class was amazing, I’ve never had such active school students.”

Nobulus Artistic Director, Alexander Wengler, agreed, complimenting the students on their enthusiasm.

All four Shiplake Drama exam groups from Years 10 to 13 took part, and the workshop has already fired imaginations and informed performance rehearsals.

The workshop taught physical theatre techniques and basic street dance phrases, with even the most reticent students learning how to achieve a 360 degree spin on one hand.

Following the afternoon workshop in Shiplake’s Tithe Barn, students travelled to the Oxford Playhouse to watch the company’s performance of Out of the Shadow.

The company received a standing ovation, with Shiplake students leading the way.

Year 9 impress

For Year 9 the visit to War Horse was just the beginning. The South African Handspring Puppet Company convinced the audience that they were watching breathing, galloping full scale horses to life in the minds of the audience.

Back at Shiplake, in drama lessons, the pupils will be creating their own puppets throughout the term. This work will make them focus on what is required to make an audience believe in a character’s authenticity through breathing and movement.

Inspired by Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 anti-war novel, now an international stage-hit too, pupils will look to learn from the theatricality and stunning stagecraft of a production that captures the horses’ emotions in the intensity of warfare.

The evening of the theatre visit was a delight for the teachers taking the trip as on two separate occasions the boys were commended for their impeccable behaviour.

Watch out for the splurge guns!

Shiplake College’s drama teachers, Jenny Unwin and Sian Pearson, gave pupils in Year 7 to 9 a taste of New York in the 1920s when they showed Alan Parker’s ever popular Bugsy Malone film.

The two drama teachers, dressed as gangsters from the prohibition era, armed themselves with custard pies and encouraged the boys to put themselves forward for the casting process ahead of the College undertaking their own version of the play.

Performances will take place in the College’s Tithe Barn Theatre from 15thto 18thJanuary 2014, commencing at 7.30pm. There will also be a matinee performance, exclusively for local schools, at 2.30pm on Wednesday 15thJanuary. Proceeds from the show will go to Launchpad, Reading’s Homeless Support Charity, and Gap-Africa, a charity which supports communities in Africa.

Monkey Bars

Taking the words of children and transposing them into adult situations provided valuable experience for drama students who will have to produce devised productions in the future.  A night at the North Wall Theatre, Oxford, watching Monkey Bars, by Chris Goode and Company and Unicorn Theatre raised some worrying questions about children’s fears and the absurdity of adult conversations.

Conversations with 72 children, taken from different socio-economic groups and races, provided the language for Chris Goode to create with.  A conversation about favourite sweets was put in the mouths of an interviewee facing a panel of three interviewers. Similarly a girl’s words on why she wrote stories, was given The Book Programme treatment by a successful author.

Creating drama from a banana

For the inaugural Junior House Drama Festival nine brave volunteers from each house took to the stage to show their housemasters, two  fierce judges and the whole of lower school exactly what they were capable of. 

The Year 9 boys had to decide on a prop that they brought with them from their houses to use as the stimulus to help them devise a piece of theatre lasting 5-7 minutes with the help of the Year 10  GCSE Drama students. The boys stepped up to the mark with enthusiasm and a surprising amount of creativity, particularly coming from Skipwith with their prop of a banana.

The pieces ranged from puppet shows using surgical gloves and starring a Dr Evil style psychologist, played by Angus Munro to a tour around the world on James Vivien’s magic carpet where he encountered an Indian sales man played by Hugo Warner.

Burr, with their journey through generations connected together by the story of a walking stick, created a truly insightful and well thought-out piece of theatre which brought them victory.  The whole afternoon was a huge success and thanks to the expert judging of Chris Alcock and Paul Jones.

Lunchbox Theatre

Lunch Box Theatre returned as Shiplake’s drama students ran through their interpretations of Salman Rushdies’ Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Jean Genet’s Splendids in preparation for their GCSE assessment. Audiences of pupils and teachers enjoyed  lunchtime cultural interludes.

Acting as slamming doors, industrial chimneys, ticking clocks and a boat in the shape of a swan, the group demonstrated how much they had learnt about physical theatre as they performed Rushdie’s piece. .An incident  as the terrified passengers of a bus lurching along a treacherous mountain pass road proved to be one of the highlights of the performance.

The assessment for Dom Marsh, the technician, is probably even more nerve-wracking than the actors’ performance. Technicians face a one-to-one interviewer with the examiner who asks them questions about their lighting and staging plans for the piece.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Earlier in the year, Shiplake’s drama students attended the Kenton Theatre in Henley for a showing of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, streamed live from the National Theatre. Recently we went up to the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End for the real thing. And it really did feel like the real thing.

The main character, 15-year-old Christopher, is autistic and has, by his own admission, some behavioural problems. Johnny Gibbon played the part of Christopher so beautifully and convincingly that it was hard to believe and remember that he was acting; that he isn’t autistic himself in ‘real life’.

The staging was brilliant and ingenious. We were sitting right up “in the Gods” with almost a bird’s eye view of the stage, and in many ways that was a brilliant place to be. Because Christopher is a genius mathematician, the stage was a black cube with a white grid drawn on it. This sounds simple but the effects were extremely clever – the squares at the sides of the stage were cupboards and the squares on the floor were trapdoors through which all sorts of objects appeared and disappeared throughout the show. At one point the back wall becomes an underground escalator, which looks like a clever stylised projection until Christopher starts to walk down it and you realise that the steps are actually there, real.

The other actors ebbed and flowed around Christopher, sometimes being actual characters and sometimes part of the staging, helping to create ethereal dream sequences or bustling city scenes. Niamh Cusack shone as the narrator and Christopher’s care-worker, her voice being the one thing he could cling to on his traumatic and dramatic journey through the mystery of his neighbour’s murdered dog to the quest for his supposedly dead mother.

 The production was inspiring, ingenious, spell-binding and memorable. The evening won’t be forgotten by any of the staff or pupils who attended, and will greatly enrich our drama students with the demands of their course.

 Louise Rapple


Sister Frances Dominica OBE visits

Ruaridh Sheppard, who played the title role in the Shiplake Community production of Joseph presented a cheque for £2,500 to Sister Frances Dominica OBE at a Shiplake College service.

Sister Frances, who had visited to address the College Congregation as well as representatives from Shiplake Primary School and the Parish Church, was surprised when the presentation was made, ‘I am totally overwhelmed, I didn’t know this was going to happen, this cheque will make a difference for a lot of people.’

For four days in February the Shiplake Parish church gave itself over to the production of Joseph with pupils from Shiplake Primary School and Shiplake College providing joyous performances for matinees and evening productions.

One phone call from the mother of 2 year old Helen, diagnosed with a brain tumour, to Sister Frances, looking for someone to talk to, had changed Sister Frances’ life. “It is the butterfly effect, a little flutter of the wings that has had enormous consequences.’ 

In 1982 Sister Frances founded Helen House the world’s first children’s hospice. Later she founded Douglas House, ‘just across the vegetable patch’, for teenagers with life-shortening illnesses.