It is with much pride and pleasure, and not a little anticipation, that I welcome you to Truro School’s 15th 2nd Year Shakespeare Festival. For the past few weeks, the English corridors have resounded with the bloodcurdling war cries, laughter, rock music and earnest discussion of beards and wings which must accompany any worthwhile production of Shakespeare’s work, and I am very excited to be joining you in the audience to enjoy the fruits of this labour.
We meet around the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and the vivid life and penetrating intelligence of his language and ideas show no sign of leaving our national consciousness. Paapa Esiedu, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant, Tom Hiddleston and Jude Law are lending their on-screen glamour to fresh interpretations of his plays, and bringing to them a whole new audience, much helped by the live productions from Stratford and London, beamed into our local cinemas. As if awakened by our interest, Richard III’s bones have emerged from beneath a Leicester car park; the Curtain Theatre, where a young Shakespeare learnt his craft, is gradually surfacing from Shoreditch soil; a new copy of the First Folio has been found in a French monastery, and a beautiful new candlelit Jacobean-style theatre has joined the Globe on the Southbank. Cornwall’s Emma Rice (Kneehigh), had her bright moment as artistic director of The Globe, fulfilling her promise to get more women on the stage, and to get audiences ‘to cheer and whoop and smell and feel the spit of the actors on our faces’! These are exciting times in which to embark on our own Shakespearean journeys.
Our own Shakespeare Festival was conceived of thirteen years ago: the then Head of Drama, Ben Symes (now director of cube theatre) and Sue Spence, my predecessor as Head of English, wanted to stitch into the curriculum a way for all pupils to experience Shakespeare as performers. Each Second Year form produced a twenty-minute piece, directed by its English teacher, worked on in lessons and performed for parents on-stage in the Burrell Theatre. Mr Berger is now the only surviving veteran of these first years and, bloodied but unbowed, has seen it transform into the richly entertaining and much anticipated annual event it has become.
I would like to extend hearty thanks to the Burrell Theatre tech crew and to Miss Egar, our drama specialist, for their superb skills of organisation and tireless help; to our English teachers for their inspirational creativity and limitless good humour; to our English prefects for their practical support; and to the children themselves for their abundance of energy, enthusiasm and insight.
We know so little about Shakespeare the man but, when I finally perfect my time machine and go hurtling off to visit him (around 1590, I think, towards the end of his ‘lost years’, just before he started to annoy the established playwrights of London), I know he’ll be thrilled when I tell him that, in 2020, on the stormswept peninsular after which he named the most disagreeable of King Lear’s sons in law – and which must be John of Gaunt’s rhapsodic precious stone, set in a silver sea … where rocky shore beats back the envious siege of watery Neptune – a hundred young Cornish men and women have been having a such a wonderful time interpreting afresh his timeless words and ideas.