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“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo”: QE actors bring Shakespeare’s tragedy to life

QE’s production at this year’s Shakespeare Schools Festival was uncompromising and unflinching in its depiction of the brutal feud between the Montague and Capulet families that is at the heart of Romeo and Juliet.

Crispin Bonham-Carter, Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement), lauded the vivid depiction given by the School’s senior actors of the dark themes that pervade the perennially popular tragic tale set in the Italian city of Verona – including depression, street brawls, domestic violence, duelling and poisoning.

Yet he also praised Year 10’s Dhruv Pai (Romeo) and Year 12’s Anshul Nema (Juliet) for their “sensitive and intelligent portrayals of the ‘star-cross’d’ lovers” immortalised in the title of the play.

The 19-strong cast drawn from Years 10–13 travelled to Finchley’s Arts Depot to take part in the local performances for the national festival, run by the Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation. In addition, the boys put on three showings in Main School Hall, giving all of Years 10 and 11 the opportunity to see the play, which is part of the GCSE English syllabus.

“Two sullen gangs facing off… faces masked… hoodies up… suddenly a knife is drawn and all hell breaks loose! That was just the start of our brilliant senior drama production of Romeo and Juliet,” said Mr Bonham-Carter.

“The surrounding cast provided a wonderful supporting ensemble of raging fathers, desperate friends and loutish thugs. It would be churlish not to mention [Year 13’s] Keiaron Joseph’s outstanding Mercutio, who delivered one of the best ‘Queen Mab’ speeches* I’ve seen. That and [Year 12’s] Saim Khan’s convincingly thuggish Capulet – complete with gold necklace – almost stole the show!

“Special praise must go to the protagonists, Anshul Nema and Dhruv Pai: it can’t be easy falling in love in front of an audience of your school mates, but it is a credit to both the cast and the audiences how convincingly this was handled.

“All in all, a fantastic experience for all.”

Saim reflected afterwards on an “amazing experience” that encompassed making new friends across year groups, sharing funny moments in rehearsals when things went wrong, and getting to see a different side of people as they fully embraced their characters.

“Getting the chance to perform in front of all our friends and family at the Arts Depot, one of the best venues in Barnet, was a unique opportunity – a truly special day for all the cast.

“On a personal level, playing the part of Lord Capulet was fascinating, since I could explore the nuances in his character, and delve deeply into how quickly he turns from a caring, but slightly overbearing, father at the start of the play, to one who raised a hand to his own daughter towards the end of it.

“It also meant that I got to wear a rather flashy costume for the performance, complete with that large (sadly fake) gold chain!”

* In his speech, Mercutio teases his friend, Romeo, about an unrequited romantic infatuation for a girl called Rosaline, telling him that the mischief-making Mab, queen of the fairies in English folklore, has been infecting his dreams. Romeo later meets, and falls in love, with Juliet.

  • Click on the thumbnail images below to scroll through photos from the production.


“Atmospheric, witty and truthful”: QE writer’s play among the best in National Theatre competition

An aspiring QE playwright’s coming-of-age story set in India was selected as one the best nine entries in a National Theatre writing competition.

As one of the shortlisted plays in the New Views competition, Year 10 pupil Adithya Raghuraman’s Train of Thought was given a rehearsed reading by professional actors at the National Theatre in London.

He had written the play during this School year, supported by a mentor playwright – in his case, Andrew Muir, a critically acclaimed writer for stage and screen – who visited QE to deliver workshops and to give Adithya personalised feedback and guidance.

Head of English Robert Hyland said: “Many congratulations to Adithya for a wonderful achievement. For someone as young as him to produce such a powerful piece of writing is truly astonishing – and for a student to have their work performed at the National Theatre is unprecedented in the School’s history.

“The play itself is an emotional tour de force – Adithya has a wonderful talent of being able to switch tone, moving from the comedic to the poignant to the reflective and finally to the uplifting. There is also great foresight in anticipating the transition from page to stage – when Adithya’s words were given life by a professional adult cast, it really allowed his talent at writing character and tone to be showcased”.

The New Views competition invites pupils aged 14-18 across the UK to submit 30-minute plays.  More than 1,000 young people took part nationally this year, with just under 500 plays finally submitted.

“The competition gives students an opportunity to tell stories that are personal to them. From an English department point of view, it gives our QE students the opportunity to write creatively for a real purpose and a real audience, adding enormous value to their wider English education,” said Mr Hyland.

Before the actors gave their reading in front of an audience at the National Theatre, Adithya spent some time meeting with the director and producer, as well as attending a rehearsal with the actors.

His play was a philosophical and reflective story about a British-Indian teenager taking a train ride across southern India after his mother’s death, and the relationship he developed both with his father and with the country of India.

Adithya said: “Being shortlisted for New Views was an unforgettable experience. From the exhilarating moment Mr Hyland called me into his office to tell me the great news, to being able to watch a plethora of talented actors display awe-inspiring emotion as they completed the rehearsed reading, the entire process never failed to be exciting and rewarding.”

Writing the play had been “a fascinating and inspiring journey”, he said, with the final work and his success in the competition making it all well worth the effort.

“An important lesson I learnt was the importance of perspective – my perspective of the characters I had written about; my teacher’s perspective; the views of my director, and the expression of the actors as they empathised with Ashok [the main character] and stepped in the shoes of the characters they had to play.”

“The latter is a difficult task, but the way the actors embodied everything I had intended when writing the play, as well as adding in their own humour and incredible skill when portraying the characters, was something I will never forget.

Thanking Mr Hyland and the competition team for the opportunity, he added: “I look forward to writing more plays and stepping out of my comfort zone in English again in the future.”

Adithya’s mentor, Andrew Muir, has had plays produced throughout the UK and in recent years his work has been performed at the National Theatre’s Connections festival, at Soho Theatre and on the BBC. His assessment of Adithya’s play described it as “a joyous road trip of a story, in which both father and son are brought back together again following the devastating loss of their wife and mother respectively.

“A wonderful train journey from Mumbai to Chennai gives the boy, our central protagonist, an opportunity to get a better understanding about his homeland – the smells, the chaos, the colours and the language. The writer takes us on this journey with skill and delicacy, and…conveys the atmosphere of India with such depth that at times I felt that I was on that same train as Ashok, experiencing all those wonders of India for the first time also. Strong story-telling, atmospheric, witty and truthful. A young imagination at play here and it’s very good. Well done.”

No simple matter: School Play explores the refugee crisis

QE’s young actors took audiences for this year’s School Play on a trip to The Jungle – the unofficial camp in Calais for migrants and refugees that gained notoriety for its poor conditions during its brief existence.

Performed during national Refugee Week, the play, which is itself called The Jungle, gave a voice to some of the thousands of men, women and children from many different countries who lived in the camp while trying to gain access to the UK.

Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter said: “This was an excellent production, with powerful and moving performances from a young but talented cast. It provided an important perspective on a set of issues so often debated in the media, and the stories of those in the Jungle resonated strongly.

“The boys seemed to revel in taking on such complex and contemporary issues, approaching the work with great maturity, respect and intensity.

“It was particularly topical, not just because it was performed during Refugee Week, but also because our School is this week marking One World Week, which is a celebration of inclusivity and an exploration of global issues.”

An award-winning play, The Jungle was written by two young playwrights, Joe Murphy and Joe Robinson, who met while studying English at Oxford. In the autumn of 2015, they first came to the Jungle camp, returning a short time later after crowdfunding to bring an 11m white geodesic dome there to serve as a theatre and community & arts space. They then spent seven months volunteering in the Jungle, before the authorities took down the encampment in 2016.

While fictional, the stories told by characters in the play were based closely on what the two writers heard during their time in the camp.

QE’s production in the Main School Hall, directed by Gavin Lister, of RM Drama, featured a 20-strong cast, with most of the boys involved drawn from Years 8 and 9.

Two boys, Aahan Shah, of Year 8, and Jeevan Karthick Thiyagarajan, of Year 9, shared the key role of Safi. “Safi was both the narrator and an active part of the plot, and Aahan and Jeevan interchanged throughout the play to deliver this role very effectively indeed,” said Mr Bonham-Carter, who was himself a professional actor before pursuing his teaching career.

Aahan said: “Playing the role of someone who has been far less privileged than myself and has had many different experiences has been really interesting. Additionally, the character I played weaves himself in and out of the story, as if controlling it and the perspective, which was something really challenging but also really fun!”

Fellow cast member Danyal Rahim, of  Year 8, who played the character, Yasin, said: “Being involved in this play has been a wonderful experience! Rehearsals with the older boys, and with others in my year, has helped me expand my interpersonal skills and my QE community,” he said, adding that the The Jungle had illuminated the “positive human side ” of the situation that refugees found themselves in.

Year 9’s Rehaan Shaikh, who played Ben, appreciated the opportunity that participation in rehearsals had given him both to make new friends and to express his creativity.

Drama has enjoyed a resurgence at QE in recent years. Work on a new facility for drama and the spoken word, The Robert Dudley Studio, is due to start this year.

“Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war”: “Strong” performance of Julius Caesar reflects the all-too-modern dangers of political chaos

QE actors mixed the language of Shakespeare with modern costumes and props to create a potent performance for our times.

The boys put on Julius Caesar at North Finchley’s artsdepot in the Shakespeare Schools Festival and then twice in School to Years 9 and 11 as part of QE’s inaugural Shakespeare and Latin Festival.

In his review of the play, Head of English Robbie Hyland said: “This was one of the strongest productions Queen Elizabeth’s has staged in recent years, not only due to the strong individual performances, but particularly due to the strength of ensemble performances.

Julius Caesar is, among other things, a play about the relationships between leaders and their citizens – our production, featuring most cast members on stage most of the time, clearly demonstrated how impactful one voice can be on the many.”

First performed in 1599, Julius Caesar centres on the assassination of the eponymous Roman dictator in 44BC. In Shakespeare’s telling, Roman general Brutus joins a conspiracy led by the politician, Cassius, to assassinate Caesar, ostensibly to prevent him from becoming a tyrant. Caesar’s right-hand man Antony stirs up hostility against the conspirators, and Rome falls into civil war.

The play contains many often-quoted lines, including:

  • Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look: He thinks too much: such men are dangerous
  • This was the most unkindest cut of all
  • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

“Many congratulations should go to the whole cast and crew, as the actors allowed some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines to shine – from Mark Antony and Brutus’ soaring funeral orations to Caesar’s resigned acceptance of his fate,” said Mr Hyland.

The director, Gavin Lister, of Rough Magicke Drama, explained in his notes for the production that he originally considered a Godfather-style setting for the play, with the characters as mafiosi. But following the “extraordinary turn after extraordinary turn” in UK politics over recent months, it became “impossible to ignore the modern-day political turbulence and the parallel themes explored in the classical piece we had been given the gift to perform.

“That is not to say our production is specific to Britain. It is not. The unstable political situations over the course of our rehearsal period in Italy, Brazil, China and Iran have provided us with a social background in which the themes of the play can be seen playing out very much in present-day real life.” These he enumerated as “the dangers of autocracy, the clandestine bargaining that takes place in corridors of power, the brutal and clinical nature of conspiracy, and the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the people’s voice”.

“The students have embraced the themes and the concept, and they have provided more pieces of inspired drama and theatricality than I could have hoped for. For that, and for their general work ethic and insatiable enthusiasm, I thank them,” Mr Lister added.

Drama has undergone a resurgence at QE in recent years, and the School is currently raising funds to create The Robert Dudley Studio – a facility devoted to drama and the spoken word.

Many of the cast spoke of how much they enjoyed taking part in the production.

Year 11 pupil Saim Khan, in the title role, said: “Playing the hardened political genius that is Julius Caesar was a very different experience to previous roles that I’ve done and a great opportunity to try something completely new.”

Year 10’s Simi Bloom, who played Flavius, a Roman tribune (a representative elected by the people), said: “Learning how to incorporate the modern world into a centuries-old story has been really fun and interesting, especially drawing parallels between prominent figures or systems of today and those of the Roman Empire.”

Year 11 actor Uday Dash said: “I had to adapt and build Cassius into a manipulative, calculating character, which was both a challenge and a unique experience.”

Riann Mehta, of Year 12, who played Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, said: “It has been extremely pleasant to explore a female character by stepping out of gendered expectations. Embracing feminine stereotypes has been a major development in my theatrical presentation and has been a vastly entertaining experience.”

The play was one of the highlights of the Shakespeare and Latin Festival.

The festival programme also included a very well attended lecture on Decadence in New York and Ancient Rome for senior Latinists and English Literature GCSE and A-level students given by Dr Emily Pillinger, Senior Lecturer in Latin Language and Literature at King’s College London and a talk from UCL Professor of Latin Gesine Manuwald, who explored the real-life characters of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Cicero.

Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter said: “Dr Pillinger drew out the links between Baz Luhrmann’s film of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald’s novel and the ancient Latin text, The Feast of Trimalchio.”

“Both academics were hugely impressed by how engaged and knowledgeable our young classicists are.”

The festival was one of a number being held at QE allowing teachers and boys to take time to celebrate a subject beyond the classroom. “Our staff are passionate advocates for the broader-world impact of their disciplines,” said Mr Bonham-Carter.

Linguists enjoy being alienated at the theatre

Sixth-formers made a trip to watch one of the most famous works by the influential 20th-century Marxist German playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht.

The group of Year 12 and Year 13 German students took the train to Kingston to watch The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Der kaukasische Kreidekreis) in the town’s Rose Theatre.

Languages teacher Rebecca Grundy said: “Although not an official member of the Communist party, Brecht was committed to highlighting social injustices and the imbalance of power distribution through his work.

“He was a proponent of ‘epic theatre’ (episches Theater); it was his belief that theatre is a way of showing audiences the world as it is, and of encouraging them to respond.

“Brecht made use of the ‘alienation effect’ (Verfremdungseffekt) to achieve this; theatrical devices aimed to keep the audience critically, rather than emotionally, engaged. The students enjoyed spotting these in the play.”

Set in the Soviet Union around the end of World War II, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a re-writing of a 14th-century Chinese play, The Chalk Circle, by Li Xingdao.

It relates the story of a land dispute between two agricultural communes and of a visit by a singer and his band of musicians. The singer tells a parable as a way of settling the dispute, concluding that the land should go to those who will use it most productively – the fruit growers – and not the goat farmers who owned it previously.

It thus features a play within a play, which is itself an example of an alienation device. Other examples include the:

  • Use of song to narrate the action and characters’ thoughts;
  • Jarring use of props, including a teddy bear as a baby!
  • Sparse set.

The visit reinforced the boys’ Sixth Form German studies. The Sixth Form course covers Berlin and its cultural scene. Brecht lived and worked in East Berlin for a large part of his career, although The Caucasian Chalk Circle was written in the United States, where Brecht was living in exile during the war.

He returned to East Berlin after the war and died there in 1956 at the age of 58. At first supportive of the government’s repressive measures following the East German uprising of 1953, Brecht eventually expressed his disillusionment over the events

The trip was organised by Ms Grundy, who accompanied the group, together with her fellow Languages teacher, Katrin Hood.

Year 12’s Hanan Moyeed said: “This trip was absolutely unforgettable. Seeing the play was a brilliant experience. It also links well to what we have been looking at in lessons.”

Harrisons’ have it! “Impressive” turn-around transforms last year’s backmarker into the 2021–2022 winning House

Harrisons’ triumphed in the 2021–2022 Eric Shearly House Cup, reaping the rewards of a year of consistently strong performance.

It was a striking reversal of the 2020–2021 results, when Harrisons’ ended the year languishing in the lower reaches of the inter-House points table.

This year’s eagerly awaited final totals were announced at the end-of-year House celebration assembly, with Harrisons’ proclaimed the winners to loud cheers from the boys.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “My congratulations go to Harrisons’ House Captain, Utkarsh Bhamidimarri, his deputy, Anubhav Rathore, [both of Year 12] and to all the members of the House. Their impressive victory demonstrates how a combination of unflinching determination, high levels of enthusiastic participation and good organisation can often turn around unpromising situations.”

Founded in 1954, when it was the fifth House to be established at the School, Harrisons’ enjoys the distinction of being the only QE House named after two people­, both of them long-serving Masters (teachers) from the School’s history: G.W.N. Harrison, who taught at the School for 41 years until 1929, and E.W. Harrison (no relation), another long-serving teacher, who retired in 1950.

The competition between QE’s six Houses continues throughout the year and includes points gained through the many House competitions, as well as the totals of merits and good notes earned across the year groups.

One of the biggest contributors to the overall points total is Sports Day, held near the end of the Summer Term. All The Houses battled hard at Sports Day, including Harrisons’, although this year, as in 2019 and 2021 (2020’s Sports Day being cancelled), the winning House was again Broughton.

Broughton sealed their Sports Day success by winning the QE Mile – the first time for some years that this relay has not been won by the staff team. Staff did, however, retain their Sports Day tug-of-war title.

The end-of-term assembly celebrated involvement not only in sport, but also in extra-curricular activities from chess to drama and music, as well as this academic year’s charity work and fundraising.

The latter included the 10km sponsored walks undertaken by pupils from Years 7­–9, which, like Sports Day, formed part of this year’s QE Enrichment Week.

On some of the hottest days of the year, the 570 boys enjoyed the chance to get out into the countryside, raising £5,000, to be split between the Teach Sri Lanka charity and the School’s Robert Dudley Studio project.

During the walks, the boys devised some creative solutions to the issue of carrying their bags, while also enjoying tree-climbing, picnics and some impromptu games of football and cricket.

They slaked their thirst with water delivered to them en route by Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter and Extra-curricular Enrichment Tutor Katrin Hood, who organised the walks.

Year 10’s Enrichment Week featured the performance of a French play, as well as animation and drama workshops. The animation was based on Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which the boys will study next term, while for the drama, boys created tableaux from Romeo and Juliet, learned how to stage-fight, and used a Shakespearean insult generator to practise their Elizabethan English.

QE’s actors feel the heat in a dramatic triumph – and with great American accents, too!

This year’s School Play, originally set on the hottest July day in the USA in 1954 and staged at QE in one of the hottest UK Julys on record, proved a tour de force.

12 Angry Men was written by prolific playwright and TV dramatist Reginald Rose and turned into a critically acclaimed film by multi-award winning director Sidney Lumet. Although penned nearly 70 years ago, the themes of prejudice, race, status and justice still resonate strongly today.

Set in a jury room during a case where the death penalty looms, the play gives the cast the challenge of delivering compelling drama through tense and heated debate in a claustrophobic environment with inhibited movement – a challenge they pulled off with consummate dramatic skill, according to Crispin Bonham-Carter, Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement).

The play hinges on juror 8, played by Henry Fonda in the 1957 film and by Year 10’s Augie Bickers in the QE production. This character is the first to seek a non-guilty verdict and sets out to persuade the other jurors of the gravity of sending a young man to his death.

Staged ‘in the round’ the audience were drawn into the taut atmosphere around the deliberating table as Augie set about consensus-building amongst peers who had to confront their own preconceptions and prejudices.

“Augie was a picture of calm, as he gently unpicked the easy assumptions of the other jurors, while the Bhowmick brothers – Krishn and Koustuv, of Years 9 and 10 respectively – were exceptional in their portrayal of embittered, middle-aged jurors 3 and 10,” said Mr Bonham-Carter.

“This was real ensemble acting, with great American accents, too! It provided yet more proof, if proof were needed, that drama at QE is flourishing!” he added.

The play focuses on the personalities and prejudices of the jurors as much as on the details of the crime. Unusually for a court drama, the defendant, a young man accused of murdering his abusive father, is not one of the main characters,

The cast were unanimous in their enjoyment of exploring the play’s themes and the rehearsal process leading up to the performances.

Juror 7, Saim Khan, of Year 10, said: “Drama has been a uniquely amazing experience in that it has enabled me to work closely with people from different year groups. Whilst there have been many challenges such as learning lines, the length of the play and learning cues, it has been immensely rewarding.”

Rehaan Shaikh, of Year 8, who was juror 11, said: “I’ve really enjoyed being able to rehearse every week with people I’d never known prior to the play. It was great as we all were making progress while having lots of fun. The funniest part of rehearsals was just saying something wrong and everyone breaking character.”

And Year 9’s Suhaas Sabbella, who played juror 1, said: “We were given a lot of freedom to develop our characters and think about their personality traits and then perform around it.”

Mr Bonham-Carter added: “My special thanks go to the director, Mr Gavin Molloy, for his creativity, inspiration and support.”


Dramatic, dynamic…deadly! QE’s Othello ‘a brilliant evening of theatre’

A performance of Othello by the School’s senior actors has been roundly praised by a representative of the Shakespeare Schools Festival.

The production of the tragedy, performed during the SSF at the Arts Depot in Finchley and then again in School to Year 11, was a central part of the inaugural QE Shakespeare Festival. This week-long celebration of the works of England’s greatest playwright was brought to an end by an “inspiring” and “hugely entertaining” lecture to Year 10 from John Mullan, a professor of English at University College London.

In her written appraisal of the performance addressed to the cast of 18 boys from Years 9–13, Lisa Ors, of the SSF, said: “Congratulations on a dramatic, dynamic and deadly production. Staging a Shakespeare play in these changing times takes extra courage, tenacity, and creativity. You should be incredibly proud of what you and your teachers have achieved.”

Praising their “brilliant evening of theatre”, she singled out various elements, such as: their use of space and the “wonderful stage pictures” they created “including the opening scene on a motorbike”; the “effective use” of lighting and sound; their “fantastic” characterisation; their use of gesture, and their deployment of “varied vocal qualities to convey emotion with clarity”.

QE’s Othello was also lauded by the School’s Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement), Crispin Bonham-Carter, whose own background is as a well-known professional actor and theatre director.

“Our boys’ performance of Othello at the Arts Depot and again at School was a dark journey into the psychology of jealousy and revenge.  Patrick Bivol [Year 11] played Iago with a hands-in-pockets insouciance that made his lies and plotting deliciously painful to watch, while Sultan Khokhar [Year 13] gave the Moor [Othello himself] a calm nobility as he met his tragic downfall.

“The protagonists were brilliantly supported by one of the strongest ensembles we’ve seen in QE drama. Keiaron Joseph [Year 11] was particularly moving as the faithful Desdemona, and Augie Bickers [Year 10] set new standards in drunk acting as the reputationally challenged Cassio.

“This was a genuinely entertaining piece of theatre and is a great reflection of the progress that drama here has made in recent years. Our resident director, Gavin Molloy, treats the boys as professionals, and this cast should be extremely proud of themselves.”

In his talk to Year 10, Professor Mullan, Head of Department and The Lord Northcliffe Chair of Modern English Literature at UCL, asked the boys: “What links the following words: assassination, bloodstained, cold-blooded, deafening, fashionable, lonely, undress, vulnerable?”

The answer is, of course, Shakespeare, he said. “He invented nearly 2,000 words never seen before in the English language.”

Professor Mullan is a regular TV and radio broadcaster and a literary journalist; he writes on contemporary fiction for The Guardian and was a judge for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

Mr Bonham-Carter said: “Professor Mullan was hugely entertaining and made a passionate case for further literature studies, noting, in passing, that his English Literature graduates were going on to the highest-earning jobs of all UCL’s departments…”

“Year 10 listened intently and asked many intelligent questions.”

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “My thanks go to my colleagues and the boys for making our inaugural QE Shakespeare festival a resounding success, with Othello an undoubted highlight and Professor Mullan’s visit constituting a very satisfying conclusion. A perusal of our archives at QE Collections will reveal that the resurgence of drama in recent years picks up on an older tradition of offering high-quality productions here.

“In fact, our connections with the theatre go back to the time of Shakespeare himself, and even a little before that. Court favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for the School’s founding charter, granted in 1573, was an important patron of theatre in Tudor England, supporting his own troupe, Leicester’s Men, and the establishment of the Theatre in Shoreditch, forerunner of London’s famous Globe Theatre.

“As we approach our 450th anniversary next year, I am very proud to see current Elizabethans take up the mantle of delivering excellence in areas such as drama, oratory and debate.”

  • Next up for QE’s thespians is courtroom drama, with a production of Twelve Angry Men planned for the Summer Term.
Putting the drama back into Shakespeare, tapping into QE’s Tudor legacy

With their impressive and impassioned delivery of Shakespeare’s best-known speeches, finalists in a Year 8 competition gave their classmates a powerful reminder that the bard’s plays were written for the stage, not the classroom.

Twelve young dramatists declaimed some of the most famous passages in the English language in front of their whole year group in the inter-House Performing Shakespeare competition – part of the inaugural QE Shakespeare Festival Week.

Congratulating all the finalists, Headmaster Neil Enright said it was perhaps particularly fitting that the overall individual winner, Soham Sapra, is a member of Leicester House, since that is named after the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley.

“It was Leicester, one of the great figures of the Elizabethan age, a leading patron of the theatre and, of course, a near-contemporary of Shakespeare, who, in 1573, asked Queen Elizabeth I for the Charter to establish Queen Elizabeth’s School,” said Mr Enright. “Thus, our Shakespeare Festival Week in a sense honours his legacy to the arts as we prepare to celebrate the 450th anniversary of our School next year. We are seeking to build on that legacy today through promoting drama and through the central importance we attach to oracy and verbal communication.”

The troupe of actors known as Leicester’s Men was the first travelling troupe to receive a royal licence under Elizabeth I. Its members included Will Kemp, who was later associated with Shakespeare, and James Burbage, who built The Theatre in Shoreditch, London’s first purpose-built theatre, which gave Leicester’s Men a permanent performance base. The design of the Theatre was very much like the original Globe Theatre, built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

The Performing Shakespeare competition began in the second half of the Autumn Term, when all boys in Year 8 were asked to select a Shakespeare speech to learn by heart and perform. This accompanied their curriculum studies of Othello.

For the final, the English department drafted in their own panel of ‘guest’ judges – History and Politics teacher Liam Hargadon, Head of Geography Emily Parry and Mrs Elaine White, retired teacher of drama at QE. The event was hosted by Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter.

The audience and judges heard some of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, including Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?”, Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger?”, and Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”.

The performers were judged not only on their physical performance and their vocalisation, but on how far their performance suited the speech, and on the extent to which their interpretation of the speech met their artistic intention.

Individual winner Soham chose the famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy spoken by the melancholy fool Jaques in As You Like It.

Head of English Robert Hyland said: “Soham gave an impressively accomplished performance, using different physical and vocal mannerisms to present each character in their speech with their own personality, and finished his speech by slowing down the pace of delivery and keeping his audience hooked.

“The overall House winner was Stapylton; Snehal Das gave a powerful empathetic performance as Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, and Nimesh Nirojan seemed like he was speaking to thousands in the Roman forum as he gave Antony’s funeral oration from Julius Caesar.”

The ability to perform Shakespeare’s speeches is integral to pupils’ understanding of the playwright, said Mr Hyland. “They are reminded that Shakespeare’s plays were never meant to be studied in class, but performed in theatres. Learning and performing a speech requires students to make judgements about what a character is saying, and how this will affect things like their movement, their vocal tone, and their interaction with the audience, in a way which analysis in an essay can never do.”

Workshop on Othello as QE prepares for inaugural Shakespeare festival

QE is to hold what is believed to be the School’s first-ever Shakespeare festival this term – and senior boys got into practice in a professionally-led workshop on Othello.

Boys from Years 10-13 will be performing the tragedy – which, with its themes of jealousy, race and passion, remains as popular as ever today – in the Shakespeare Schools Festival on 23rd February at the Arts Depot in Finchley.

The production will also form part of QE’s homegrown Shakespeare festival, along with a diverse programme of other activities, ranging from an academic lecture to an inter-House competition.

The afternoon workshop was run by Emma Howell of the Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation, which organises the national schools festival.

Assistant Head Crispin Bonham-Carter (Pupil Involvement) said: “Shakespeare was ten years old when QE was founded, making him an exact contemporary of the School’s very first intake of boys. It’s really exciting to be celebrating him by holding our own festival, which will include the Othello production.”

Othello will also continue our strong record of participation in the Shakespeare Schools Festival. It is a source of great pride that, with our Year 9 production of Hamlet last academic year, we have kept this tradition alive during the pandemic. This year sees the older boys in Years 10–13 taking on the Bard.”

The play tells the story of an African general, Othello, in the 16th-century Venetian army who is tricked into suspecting his wife of adultery. Sexual jealousy and racial prejudice are among its leading motifs. In it, the sinister standard-bearer, Iago, manipulates Othello into a jealous rage, but all the while appears to warn his commander against the destructive emotion: “O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on”  – the first coinage of the term “green-eyed monster”. Other quotations from the play that have become the stuff of everyday speech include: “‘T’is neither here nor there” and “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve”.

As well as performances of Othello both at the Arts Depot and in School, the QE Shakespeare festival will include:

  • The UCL Lord Northcliffe Chair of Modern English Literature, Professor John Mullan, delivering a lecture to senior pupils
  • Year 8 boys in a Performing Shakespeare final, held in an X Factor-style format
  • Short sonnet-based activities during form time
  • A Shakespeare Treasure Hunt House competition
  • Showings of National Theatre Shakespeare productions of Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale in English classes, for Years 7 and 9 respectively.

The Othello workshop began with boys learning some warm-up techniques employed in professional productions and receiving key advice on performing – tips such as: always entering and leaving the stage with a purpose and in character; using the front of the stage, and angling your body during dialogue so that you are engaging with the audience.

The pupils workshopped a section of the abridged production, with Emma Howell and QE’s resident theatre director, Gavin Malloy, then working with the cast on their positioning, movement and characterisation, in order to help build a dynamic piece.

“Emma was keen to get the boys thinking about their characters (even those without a name in the script, such as some of the soldiers learning that the war was over) – what motivates them in the scene, what their relationships were with other characters on stage, and how this could be expressed in their performances,” said Mr Bonham-Carter. “They also worked on having range in the delivery of their lines, differentiating between formal and informal speech.”

“It was a very collaborative process with which the boys seemed to be enthusiastically engaged.”