Workshop on Othello as QE prepares for inaugural Shakespeare festival

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 for the Othello 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 Mullen, 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.”