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.
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.
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.
Acting as a fifty-something woman, sentenced to death by bone cancer, with ‘six-to-nine months’ left, is a challenge for a teenager. Ellaoisa Gorvin portrayed a mother tying to hide the pain from her daughter; who struggles to swallow the outsize tablets, but she left the audience in no doubt as to Myra’s resolve and inner strength.
For Myra death was one last project to tidy and organise; her plans for a flat-pack cardboard coffin perfectly in character. Her words say she is ready to let her life slip away. Unable to work she reads the ‘shelves of cancer’ at her local library to occupy her time, but she cannot relinquish her maternal instincts.
Meaghan Barron-Cutts played recovering bulimic daughter Jen in the opening scene of Laura Wade’s 2005 debut play Colder than here in the AS practical performance. With a track-record of choosing bad men, much to her mother’s chagrin, and an on-going feud of silence with her father, the picnic rug on which Jen and mother sit may as well be a minefield. Meaghan portrays Jen as a troubled soul ready to implode.
In a tribute to Stanislavskian technique the two actors smooth imaginary creases in their clothes, rub their limbs distractedly and endure awkward silences. Mother has brought Jen to audition a site for her grave. It would be a difficult situation at the best of times but this is a family at war. There is certainly more than one elephant in the room!
‘Vegetarian sausage roll?’ asks Myra. The audience barely titter such is the tension that the comedy is more bitter than sweet.
Delving into her family history, Trudi Lister, along with Tom Jones, Shiplake College Sixth Formers, devised an original two-hander, Goal and a perfect six, for an enthralled Tithe Barn Theatre audience.
Taking Trudi’s grandmother Sheena, Scottish Ice Dancing Champion, and her grandfather Harold ‘Cep’ Young, a Canadian ice-hockey player for the Fife Flyers, as a case study, the play investigates how humans create and use memory.
Beginning in science documentary mode, Trudi and Tom, present the physiology of memory. ‘If you are over 28 then your memory is already declining,’ warns Tom. Sideways glances from professional presenter Trudi, attempt to keep overly dramatic Tom on script and on message. This deft sub-plot brings humour to the warm love story that illustrates the science, particularly when the despairing Trudi leaves the stage to grab a drink from the bar.
With diagrams on the screen behind them, and Tom squirming as a seahorse as he replicates the shape of the hippocampus, the presenters explain how every time we remember our synapses have to recreate the memory. Memories change and develop as well as fading and disappearing.
Switching from presenters to the forties sweethearts, who were Fife local celebrities, Tom and Trudi as Harold and Sheena, act out their first meeting. That is the problem. Years and decades have embellished Sheena’s romantic memories. Harold gently amends Sheena’s memories of love at first sight.
During their courtship Harold asks, ‘What if we become one of those couples with nothing left to say?’
Sheena reassures him, ‘There’s always something to say.’ Sixty-one years on Harold and Sheena have plenty to say about the sweet business they started, the house they built and the children and grandchildren they visit. The Youngs can be very proud of their grand-daughter’s creativity too.
From the moment that boys and girls from Shiplake Primary School’s Years 5 and 6 poured onto the stage with their smiles and infectious enthusiasm it was evident that A Shiplake Joseph, a Community Youth Production between Shiplake College, the Primary School and the Shiplake Parish Church’s Sunday Club would be a high-energy entertainment bonanza.
Lloyd-Webber and Rice had originally written Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat for a performance in an English school. Catherine Saker and Jenny Unwin’s slick edit romped through the action. Such was the pace that matinee performances, with seventy actors and singers on stage in the Church of St Peter and St Paul, for St Mary’s School and the remainder of Shiplake Primary School kept even the youngest of children entertained.
Louise Rapple’s eight-piece band picked out the honky-tonk sounds of the seventies but Joseph’s multi-coloured onesie, proudly worn by Ruaridh Sheppard, epitomised the nod to contemporary tastes. His eleven brothers were wonderfully disgruntled as they hissed, booed and gestured amongst the audience whilst Jacob showered affection on his favourite son. Tom Jones, as Reuben, soon won the audience’s affection.
The element of pantomime (memories of Christmas linger) was heightened by a camel that made asides to the audience. A sedan MDF wood limo and a golden BMX bike were typical of the production’s irreverent sense of fun. Once in Egypt, there was comic slapstick as Potiphar’s wife chased Joseph around the stage.
Above all Joseph is an exuberant musical ranging from operatic high notes, through country and western to disco. The clear diction and melodic tones of the Primary School boys and girls, with their glittering cowboy hats, combined magnificently with Shiplake College’s junior choir. Together they provided a sound track that carried the biblical story through to the foot-stomping triumphant conclusion of the mega-mix finale.
Nor should it be forgotten that Billy Sayers’ lip-curling Elvis presentation of the Pharoah, complete with leather jacket, was conclusive proof that the King lives.
'A Shiplake Joseph' is now fully booked for the Friday and Saturday performances. Some tickets are still available for Wednesday 6th February and Thursday 7th February but are selling like hot cakes. If you'd like to come and see the production then please fill in the booking form and return it to the College as soon as possible. Please note that no tickets will be issued for the performance as names will be checked on the evening.
With a cast of over 90 performers, a live band, loads of opportunities for the audience to sing along and participate rehearsals for the show are hitting their climax. Expect a high octane performance of this popular classic show suitable for all ages. A must for all the family, banish those post Christmas blues and come and raise the roof and dance in the pews! Book now to avoid disappointment!
Catherine Saker - Head of Drama
Booking for the major community production 'A Shiplake Joseph' opens on Monday 3rd December. Created by the same team who produced 'Nativity' and bought a camel to St Peter's and St Paul's Church, Shiplake in 2010.
Expect a high octane, technicolour, rollercoaster ride of a show full of surprises, featuring a cast of over 80, drawn from the whole Shiplake Community. We expect demand for tickets to be high and so recommend early booking for some post-Christmas blues therapy! The poster can be found here and the booking form can be found here.
Miss Catherine Saker
Head of Drama
‘Performing before an audience of ten and eleven year olds is probably as nerve-wracking a task for these GCSE students as any formal examination assessment but they came through with flying colours,’ said Catherine Saker, Head of Drama and Theatre at Shiplake College.
Comedy, physical theatre and story-telling were all techniques incorporated when the Shiplake College GCSE Drama class, from Year 11, devised a performance for their Theatre in Education assignment. Their mission was to perform an educating piece of theatre for the Year Six pupils at Shiplake Primary School.
The theme of the piece was Giving Advice on Independence with the aim of educating ten and eleven year olds on how to go out with their friends and enjoy themselves whilst keeping safe.
‘It is a challenging mission as the actors have just one chance to perform their piece, to the audience, in a venue without lighting and costumes. This group had just two props, a football and a violin case. Then, as with all visiting theatre companies nowadays, they had to provide the Primary School with a work-shop pack that the Year Six teachers could use with their class,’ said Catherine Saker.
Last week the Tithe Barn theatre was packed to the rafters for the College's production of Coram Boy. The three night sell-out run saw pupils perform a script dramatized from Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Award-winning novel set in 18thcentury England. Coram Boy is a tale of two cities – Gloucester and London – and a tale of two orphans at the Coram Hospital for Foundling Children: Toby saved from an African slave ship, and Aaron, the abandoned heir to a great estate. It is also a tale of fathers and sons: slave-trader Otis and his son Meshak, and Sir William Ashbrook and the son he disinherits.
First performed in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, Coram Boy is a rich gothic drama, full of dastardly villains, cold-hearted aristocrats, devoted friends and passionate lovers, and set against a background of cruelty, music and murder. Handel's Messiah, which features prominently in the plot, also featured in the Shiplake production, with the cast singing excerpts from the Messiah during the performance.
Director of Drama at the College, Catherine Saker, says that the story of Coram Boy is made more powerful by the fact that the history it covers is a very hidden, true part of England’s darker past.
The magnificent sum of £1500 was raised from ticket sales and donations (in the true spirit of Christmas)and will be donated to the Coram Foundation. The Coram Foundation continues to work with the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people and provides more than 15,000 children and parents every year with adoption support, creative therapies, supported housing for care leavers, legal advice and health and drug education.