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.