By Julia Salisbury
THERE is a famous saying in show business: never work with children and animals.
However, last Wednesday night’s performance at the Harlow Playhouse proved at least one element of this statement wrong.
The travelling Shakespeare Schools Festival came together with three schools from Harlow to perform bridged versions of some of Shakespeare’s best loved classic comedies.
First to take the stage were students from Burnt Mill Academy performing Twelfth Night, followed by Stewards Academy (Cast Two) performingThe Tempest.
Both performances were executed perfectly, with the cast adding twists to the characters to make them their own.
In Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch (Alfi Howard-Morgan) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Alex Chitseko) had the audience in stitches with their drunken antics and constant frivolity.
Alex Stewart, who took on the role of Malvolio, gave an outstanding performance which oozed confidence and charisma.
Following Burnt Mill Academy was Stewards Academy (Cast Two), who put an interesting spin on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Ariel, usually played by a woman, was this time portrayed as a man and played by Adam Fleming, whilst Prosperro, usually a man, was portrayed by Natasha Spencer, as a woman. This unexpected gender swap breathed a breath of fresh air into Shakespeare’s 36th play and gave the audience a different perspective to each character.
The third play was performed by Brookland Junior School, who performed Much Ado About Nothing and their age certainly didn’t hold them back.
The cast, which consisted of 24 pupils, captivated the audience with their energy and enthusiasm.
The narrator of the play, Jessica Blake, led the audience through the play with poise and elegance, showcasing her tremendous acting skills throughout.
Rounding off the night was A Midsummers Night Dream preformed by Stewards Academy.
Again, Stewards swapped the gender of one of Shakespeare’s main characters. Chloe Davis played the mischievous and clever elf Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow in the play. This change in gender for the character highlighted the impish quality of the sprite and allowed the actress to put a feminine twist on Shakespeare’s naughty character.
Despite the lack of scenery, all four casts brought the stage alive. Brookland Junior School portrayed the forest in Much Ado About Nothing by using cast members as trees, whilst Burnt Mill Academy (Cast Two) depicted the boat caught in the storm by cast members swaying from side to side, which proved to be very effective.
Whilst it should not be gone without saying that the directors and co-directors put together an excellent show, the cast members from the three schools made the evening.
As with any theatrical production, the actors and performers gave the final policed performance.
But praise must also go to the directors and to those who helped this fine acting company learn their lines and prepare to give such an outstandingly profession performance to a truly appreciative audience. This reporter would not be surprised to see many of these thespians on a West End stage in years to come.
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