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Critic critically acclaimed! Suryansh named among winners of New York Times competition

A sixth-former’s review of Balenciaga’s autumn collection has been named among the winners in a New York Times writing contest.

Suryansh Sarangi was selected as one of nine overall winners – and one of only two from outside the US – after penning a review that commented not only on the clothes, but on the collection’s relationship to the American dream.

He drew inspiration from his interest in fashion, but also from his A-level English classes, and especially American literature lessons on F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Head of English Robert Hyland said: “Full marks to Suryansh on this outstanding success! Having discovered the competition for himself, he then submitted an entry that was at once lively, original and thoughtful.”

There were more than 3,200 entries to the NYT’s Ninth Annual Student Review Contest. Entrants, who had to be school pupils aged 13 to 19, were invited to write original reviews of up to 450 words on any kind of creative expression covered by the Times, one of the world’s most influential newspapers.

In his review, Suryansh began by noting the importance of the show’s setting – “Draped in the golden Californian sun on a pristine neighborhood boulevard punctuated with postcard-perfect palm trees, everything about the Balenciaga fall 2024 collection just screams Los Angeles.”

The city, he noted, carried special significance for Balenciaga’s creative director,  Demna Gvasalia: “Having grown up in a dreary ‘post-Soviet vacuum’, Demna himself states that the very culture he idolized as the perfect, colorful life was that of L.A.”

The collection, with its “relaxed yet stylish outfits” and its mixed messages – “Perhaps celebrities are just like us. But are they?” – was, Suryansh concluded, “an ironic highlighting of inequality…nothing more than a testament to the modern American dream, an illusory ideal we can only chase, yet never achieve”.

Suryansh, who is in Year 12, found out about the competition through a friend he made at a US universities fair. “I was compelled by the immense creative scope it allowed entrants. I realised this was a great opportunity to express my passions about my non-academic interests: this competition gave me a free licence to write about whatever I wanted

“Social commentary through the media of fashion piqued my interest and I was drawn to brands which did this, like Balenciaga. Balenciaga’s philosophy is to make every piece a work of art, something that transcends mere fashion and becomes a statement of expression, emotion and creativity.

“I did not have to research much; I just had to watch the fashion show on YouTube, and from there, it was just about interpreting it and analysing it beyond its face value.

“When doing The Great Gatsby, we talked and learned a lot about the American dream, with it being a key focus of the novel, and I was able to incorporate this into my review.”

Suryansh writes for The Econobethan and The Arabella – pupil-run magazines at QE – and recently led a creative writing workshop at the School.

He recommends that anyone interested in fashion’s role in social commentary should look into:

  • Raf Simons Fall 2001 Show, Riot! Riot! Riot!
  • Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 2010 collection, Plato’s Atlantis
  • The work of other designers and fashion houses such as Rick Owens, Maison Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto and Jean Paul Gaultier.

As his prize, Suryansh’s review has now been published, along with those of the other eight winners, on the NYT’s educational resource website, The Learning Network.


How did we get here? The Arabella magazine explores 450th anniversary theme

QE’s pupil-run arts magazine, The Arabella, looks both to the past and the future in a special edition for the School’s 450th anniversary year.

The 44-page publication features 26 pieces of poetry, prose, and art, many of them inspired by its anniversary-related theme, How did we get here? The approach, looking both backward and forward, mirrors that of the School’s anniversary celebrations on Founder’s Day which included a display of the School’s 1573 Royal Charter alongside the burying of a time capsule intended for the pupils of 2073, when QE will mark its 500th anniversary. Work on the magazine began last academic year, but it has only now been published.

Assistant Head (Pupil Involvement) Crispin Bonham-Carter said: “The ninth edition of The Arabella has been worth the wait: with its expanded contents and an eclectic mix of topics and styles, it is a great demonstration of the fruits of free-thinking scholarship and academic curiosity.”

The magazine includes contributions from boys throughout the School, although boys from the current Years 8 and 9 feature especially heavily.

In his introduction, one of the editors, Chanakya Seetharam, of Year 12, addresses his fellow QE pupils: “Just as the [450th anniversary thanksgiving] service at Westminster Abbey in the Spring Term so well captured, this is as much cause to look back with an inquisitive eye into the past as to look forward to the future. It is this spirit of investigation that is the kernel of this edition, and which was so well taken up by you….

“You are what keeps The Arabella alive. This is a magazine by you and for you. We hope you will find all of the work here thoroughly insightful, interesting, and enjoyable, and here’s to a great next edition!”

The poetry section is highly varied, with contributions ranging from Year 9 boy Yingqiao Zhao’s piece about the moon – which is in the shape of a crescent and has key words picked out in different colours – to the nine-stanza rhyming French poem, La Mort de L’Ancien, composed by Year 13’s Aayush Backory. The poetry section closes with Nikhil Francine, of Year 9, addressing the anniversary directly with a poem entitled Thriving from Ancient Roots – the School’s slogan for the anniversary year.

The creative writing pages included Year 9 pupil Raaghav Dhanasekaran predicting a dystopian future amid huge hurricanes caused by climate change.

The music writing section on the other hand looks mostly to the past, from Nikhil Francine’s essay on A brief history of song to Moneshan Rathaparan and Eshwara Masina, both of Year 8, jointly exploring The Enduring Influence of Classical and Baroque Music on Contemporary Culture.

Year 12 student Akheel Kale, from the editorial team, praises the quality of Year 13 pupil Ashish Yeruva’s essay on Justice for Ukraine: How to Put Russian Leaders on Trial Using International Law. Ashish’s contribution had inspired the team to open a current affairs section in the magazine and to invite further such submissions in the future, Akheel says.

Similarly, the magazine has a new section on Science, featuring Year 10 boy Zain Syed’s submission of an extensive flow chart setting out A Natural History of the Earth.

Interspersed throughout The Arabella are artworks exploring themes including Expressive Heads, Distortion and Identity; Dystopian Landscape; and Art Inspired by Music. Shown in this news story, from top to bottom, are:

  • Expressive Heads, Distortion and Identity, by Sushan Naresh, Year 10 (main image)
  • Dystopian Landscape, by Krishav Sundar Rajan, Year 9
  • Art Inspired by Music, by Galinghan Balamurugan, Year 8
  • Expressive Heads, Distortion and Identity, by Ayush Saha, Year 10

The magazine is named after Arabella Stuart, a descendant of Henry VII and sixth in line to the throne, who fell foul of King James I when in 1610 she secretly married another potential heir to the throne, William Seymore. Her husband was sent to the Tower of London, while Arabella was committed to the care of the Bishop of Durham, but fell ill in Barnet en route. She stayed for some months at the home of QE Governor Thomas Conyers, her spiritual needs attended to by another Governor, Rev Matthias Milward, who was subsequently appointed Master (Headmaster) of the School.

  • For anyone with access to the School’s eQE portal, The Arabella is available to read here.
‘Blood will have blood’: Year 9 witness Macbeth’s descent into murder and madness on QE latest visit to Globe Theatre

Year 9 boys relished the opportunity to watch a dramatic modern production of Macbeth, complete with witches portrayed as forensic scientists, fight scenes enhanced with special effects, and the spilling of copious amounts of blood.

The visit by the whole year group over three days was only the latest in a series of QE trips to the Globe: in the last three months, more than 400 boys and staff have travelled down the Northern Line to see Shakespeare plays at the modern reconstruction close to the site of the 17th-century theatre.

Head of English Robert Hyland said: “Allowing all of Year 9 to see the play they are about to study, performed in its original venue, is an exciting and invaluable opportunity. Macbeth is a play about the pursuit of power, the temptation of ambition, and what happens when both of those things are abused by those who are unsuitable to lead – themes which are incredibly relevant to the world we live in today.”

“Theatre is often about creating a sense of spectacle, and our students were treated to a visually exciting performance – from the modern costumes of the actors, to the ways the actors moved in and out of the audience, and finally culminating in dramatic and bloody fight scenes, our students were able to enjoy an experience which only live theatre can truly provide.”

By watching the play, the boys quickly gained a good understanding of stagecraft and dramatic techniques, while the specific setting of the Globe helped them understand the contexts in which Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.

“Walking into the Globe for the first time can give you goosebumps as you look around the space and imagine Shakespeare himself performing the same words over 400 years ago,” said Mr Hyland.

Other recent trips to the Globe have been to see two comedies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Comedy of Errors, set respectively in the ancient cities of Athens, Greece, and Ephesus, in modern-day Türkiye (Turkey).

The altogether darker Macbeth, often known euphemistically as ‘the Scottish play’ because of the superstition that surrounds it, found an appreciative audience with the QE Year 9 visitors.

Vihaan Bhadra said: “The play truly took us into the mind of Macbeth, with a perfect mix of theatrics and suspense. The actor was able to show the different stages of Macbeth, ranging from victory, through guilt, to complete madness.”

Other comments from the boys included:

  • “I liked the modern take on the play – it made it more relatable and brought the entire range of characters to life.” Sarang Nair
  • “Seeing characters like the porter portrayed as a security guard, or seeing the witches portrayed as forensic scientists made the performance much more understandable and accessible, and really developed our interest.” Neelesh Fotedar
  • “It was an exhilarating experience to enjoy such an interesting play in such a clear and enjoyable manner.” Arhaan Yadav
  • “Breathtaking and engaging.” Krish Deebak
  • “The engaging acting of the characters made the play come to life. The interaction with the audience gave the play a sense of fun.” Tanush Madadi
  • “Going on this trip helped me understand and enjoy the historical significance of the Globe Theatre.” Zahin Khan.
“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.”

‘Hidden beauty’ – but talent on full display in creative magazine

Boys from across the School gave free rein to their creative side in the latest edition of the pupil-run magazine, The Arabella.

The 37-page colour publication features contributions from boys in every year group under the theme of ‘hidden beauty’.

The contents from the 26 contributors include poetry, art, creative prose writing in English, French & German, and essays on music.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I congratulate all those whose work has been featured: it is another high-quality edition of our creative magazine, with plenty of examples of the sort of free-thinking scholarship that we seek to cultivate at Queen Elizabeth’s School.”

The most entries were for the poetry section, where the ten contributors’ poems – with titles as diverse as The Passageway (Ishan Nakadi, of Year 9) and Introspect (Akheel Kale, of Year 11) were interspersed with examples of boys’ GCSE and A-level artwork.

The section featuring writing on modern languages is prefaced by the editor-in-chief, 2023 School Captain Darren Lee, of Year 12. Addressing the pupil readership, Darren writes: “Don’t feel restricted to only writing in French or German: we would love to see entries in languages spoken at home! In the next edition, we hope to extend the languages section and include Classics submissions…”

In the music section William Joanes, of Year 10, takes a highly technical look at Hidden Science in Music, illustrated with a picture of the inner ear, while Year 12’s Tharun Dhamodharan delivers a paeon to the human voice, The Hidden Instrument.

The creative writing section is similarly varied, from final-year student Antony Yassa’s science-based examination of The Microscopic World to Year 11 pupil Shreyas Mone’s musings on Beauty in destruction – “a different kind of beauty” – where he cites examples such as volcanoes, thunderstorms and even videos of building demolition.

Six artists’ work is featured, including the front-cover illustration by Year 13’s Dylan Domb, pictured top, and pieces by Gabriel Gulliford (also Year 13), above right, and Year 12’s Pratham Bhavsar, left.

As the foreword explains, the magazine is named after Arabella Stuart, a descendant of Henry VII and sixth in line to the crown, who fell foul of King James I when in 1610 she secretly married another potential heir to the throne, William Seymore. While her husband was sent to the Tower of London, Arabella was committed to the care of the Bishop of Durham, but fell ill in Barnet en route. She stayed for some months at the home of a Governor of the School, Thomas Conyers, while her spiritual needs were attended to by another Governor, Rev Matthias Milward, who was also subsequently appointed Master (Headmaster) of the School.

Darren led an editorial team of 21 boys. Staff assistance and support came from: Assistant Head (Pupil Destinations) James Kane; Head of English Robert Hyland; Curator of QE Collections and Head of Library Services Jenni Blackford; Library Services Assistant Corinna Illingworth, and from teachers in the Languages department.

Submissions are now being invited for the next issue, which will be issue 8 and is on the theme of ‘The Lure of Power’.

Poetry, puzzles, castles, eco products…and a truly dastardly crime: it’s the QE 2022 Primary Challenge!

QE expanded its series of popular challenges for local primary school children this year, adding a humanities day to the programme.

The events, which are part of QE’s partnerships work with the local community, are aimed at giving Year 5 girls and boys an early taste of secondary school education.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “We are pleased to support local primary schools in this way.

“I know that our staff and pupils involved in running these enrichment activities greatly enjoy the opportunity to meet the visiting children.”

The first of the three days was the ever-popular Primary Forensics Workshop. The visitors were tasked with completing a number of experiments and analyses to work out who had murdered the Headmaster!

There were stations where the children could undertake: hair and fibre analysis using a microscope; fingerprint analysis, and blood spatter analysis (with a blood substitute).

The pupils worked to solve the ‘crime’, using the evidence they collected to build a case, while also weighing up the respective motives of the suspects.

Boys from Year 12 helped staff run this workshop, engaging with the children at each station.

In the Maths and English Challenge, the girls and boys had to solve a series of games and puzzles that ranged from a cross-number round to a session looking at composing and performing poetry.

There was a focus on teamwork and collaboration. Each team had the support of a QE Year 7 pupil.

Special plaudits went to Foulds School pupils, who achieved a near-clean sweep of the prizes, having impressed across the various disciplines on the day.

The new humanities day hosted by the History, Geography and Economics departments comprised two separate activities.

Firstly, teams were given the challenge of designing a castle on paper. They had to base their design on a certain set of criteria and follow a budget, requiring them to decide which features they wanted to prioritise.

They then faced a number of scenarios, presenting both challenges and opportunities for their fortifications. Could their castle and kingdom survive?

“This was a way of exploring history and strategy in a fun and engaging way,” said Mr Enright. “The Year 5 pupils also had to adapt their plans as the scenarios unfolded, which meant teams had to communicate well and quickly make decisions.”

There was then a Sustainability Challenge run jointly by Geography and Economics. The children had to work in groups and devise a sustainable product. They designed their product, chose a logo and decided on their target market. Then each group presented to the other children in attendance. Among the ideas generated were: a mobile phone where the case is a solar panel and charges the phone, and a ‘plastic’ bottle where the bottle itself is biodegradable.

“Our staff were really impressed with the confidence shown by the children in their presentations and by the creativity they brought to bear in designing their products,” said the Headmaster.

Participating Barnet primary schools this year included: Underhill, Whitings Hill, Christchurch, and Foulds.

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.”

A first for QE? Sixth-formers delve deep into the School’s history through new Palaeography Society

A new School society – believed to be the first of its kind in the country – is working hard to decipher QE’s earliest written records.

English teacher Kanak Shah has brought together a group of dedicated Year 12 boys and trained them in palaeography – the study of ancient and pre-modern manuscripts.

Now they have started transcribing QE Governors’ meeting minutes, starting with Volume I, which begins in 1587, and also researching the School Charter, which dates back to the School’s founding year, 1573.

Ms Shah, who has an MPhil degree in Renaissance Literature from Cambridge, said: “Due to its complexity, palaeography is usually only studied at Master’s level. But since I myself have a keen interest in palaeography, manuscripts and the early modern period, and since QE boasts one of the most robust school archive collections in the UK, I was eager for the students to be involved in preserving and curating their own School’s history.”

Working together with Ms Shah and Jenni Blackford, Curator of QE Collections and Head of Library Services, are the following Year 12 A-level History students: Gabriel Gulliford, Ishaan Mehta, Muhammad Nayel Huda, Kai Mukherjee, Danny Adey, Conall Walker and Jeeve Singh. All are currently studying the early modern period and are considering pursuing courses in subjects such as History, Palaeography or Archaeology at university.

“We started by following Cambridge University’s English Handwriting 1500-1700 online course to develop the students’ transcription skills. We then began to transcribe the digitised manuscripts on QE Collections [the School’s publicly available digital archive, launched last year].

“The earliest documents present an interesting challenge as they were written before the standardisation of handwriting, and so require careful decoding,” said Ms Shah.

Having initially familiarised themselves with the subject matter digitally, the group are now working with the original archive materials, guided by Mrs Blackford.

They plan to publish the transcripts on QE Collections in the Summer Term, while they will contribute their research to an exhibition of archival material planned for the School’s 450th anniversary next year.

“Looking forward to the future, we would be keen to establish a working relationship with Barnet Museum, who possess a complete transcription of these Governor’s minutes that was done many years ago,” said Ms Shah.

It is not clear who made the the Barnet Museum transcription, which was completed  some time prior to 1931. The preface to the museum’s collection of QE translations and transcriptions was written in May 1931 by Cecil L Tripp, author of A History of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, published 1935.

“Transcriptions are often erroneous and subjective, so it is very interesting for the boys to compare their own work with the museum’s transcription, and to contribute to Barnet’s history in such an active way.”

Once the pupils’ transcription has been completed and it and the Barnet Museum transcription have been digitised, they will both be published on QE Collections.

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.”

Preventing tragedy: learning the lessons of Romeo and Juliet

Year 11 boys had the chance to see one of their GCSE English Literature texts brought to life when they went to The Globe Theatre to watch an “exceptional production” of Romeo and Juliet.

During the visit – QE’s first live theatre visit since before the pandemic – all of Year 11 experienced a radical take on Shakespeare’s tragic tale of two young Italian ‘star-crossed lovers’ that eschewed romance in favour of an unsparing focus on mental health.

English teacher Micah King said: “I’m so glad our students got to enjoy live theatre after two years of disruption. They were able to experience an exceptional production of one of their GCSE texts, in a reproduction of the theatre it was originally performed in.

“Magic happened there: the students were simultaneously transported to Elizabethan era Verona, while the exceptional cast brought a 400-year-old play to life and made its themes modern and relevant to our 21st Century students.”

The performance, directed by the critically acclaimed young British theatre director, Ola Ince, explored the impact of emotional abuse and family feuds on the wellbeing of the eponymous lovers.

One notable addition to the Elizabethan-style architecture of the Globe Theatre was an electronic billboard at the back of the stage, displaying messages such as ‘20% of teenagers experience depression before they reach adulthood’ when Romeo is introduced ‘with [his] tears augmenting the fresh morning dew’, and “The rational part of the young person’s brain is not really developed until age 25”, displayed as Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet in secret.

Throughout the play, the boys stood in the theatre yard, or pit – the area which in Elizabethan times was the cheapest part of the theatre, with no seats provided. “This meant that sometimes the actors were moving between groups of students as they performed,” said Mr King.

The production, which stars Alfred Enoch as Romeo (best known for playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter film series and Wes Gibbins on the ABC legal drama television series How to Get Away with Murder) and National Youth Theatre-trained Rebekah Murrell, features modern sets and costume.

The Guardian’s reviewer, Arifa Akbar, who gave it four stars out of five, wrote: “…the love story is radically undercut and Ola Ince’s production is recalibrated to focus on Verona’s pervading social sickness and gang violence (there are not only knives but drugs and guns) as well as youth disillusionment and trauma.” She also praised the band as “the runaway highlight of this production”.

For his part, TimeOut’s Andrzej Lukowski’s said: “…I thought the billboard was an interesting idea in a mercurial show that often manages to be frustratingly dysfunctional and giddily fun at the exact same time….Essentially Ince’s desire to offer up two hours of hard-hitting social realism and two hours of wild escapist fantasy at the same time is not entirely reconcilable. Kitchen sink regietheatre* isn’t really a thing. But just because it doesn’t always ‘work’ doesn’t mean it’s not good: I loved the wild, irreverent roar of the ball [the scene in which Romeo first sees Juliet]; equally, I think Ince is on to something in choosing to earnestly highlight the number of references to suicide in the play – it seems quite reasonable to interpret the star-cross’d lovers as being depressed.”

* Definitions: Kitchen sink realism, which developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, featured a type of social realism showing the harsh domestic lives of working-class British people. Regietheatre is the modern practice of allowing a director to determine how a play is put on, so that he or she need not adhere to the playwright’s specific intentions or stage directions.