Last week, Year 7 delivered a marvellous performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear, a play known for its extraordinary bleakness and brutality. The audience programme described it as ‘a play of extremes’ with themes of ‘darkness and light, blindness and sight, truth and deception.’ Thus prepared, the audience watched the story unfold as Lear banishes the daughter who loves him most, descends into madness following his betrayal by his two older daughters, and ultimately dies of a broken heart. Winding throughout this main plot is further betrayal, injury, and death.
Compelling performances made the story come to life, as pupils tackled famously difficult roles. There was subtlety, realism and nuance in their portrayals, as well as high melodrama and some splendid sword fighting. Having mastered reams of Shakespearean text, the children were able to deliver their lines with clarity and passion as characters variously exploded with rage, smouldered with envy, plotted with sanguinity and poured out their hearts with unwavering devotion. There were also some brilliant musical performances, using popular songs with lyrics re-written by Mrs Burden. To the tune of Lady Gaga’s ‘Hold My Hand’, the children urged, ‘If your heart’s full of love let it show/Cling to the good, don’t let go.’ And the music of Jon Bon Jovi’s ‘Shot through the heart’ provided a perfect vehicle for King Lear to sing, ‘Out of my mind and you’re to blame/Daughters, you give love a bad name’.
Mrs Burden explained to the audience that, in working through the challenging subject matter, the class used a Bible verse that says ‘hate what is evil; cling to what is good’, to think about the deep harm that can result when little envies and bitternesses go unchecked. ‘Then,’ she said, ‘we realise how ugly that can be inside us, and how we need to fight for what is good and pure and true.’ She recounted how hard the pupils worked to deliver their performances; it is almost unheard of for 11 and 12-year olds to perform King Lear, which Percy Bysshe Shelley called ‘the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world.’ But, she continued, despite the difficulty, ‘their minds, hearts and imaginations will have been enlarged and awakened in ways they might not even realise…it is exhilarating to be part of a production like this.’
In addition to the phenomenal work by the class, congratulations to Mrs Burden for her amazing direction, and special thanks to Mrs Lowe for her brilliant musical accompaniment and Miss Pearce-Higgins for so ably handling the lighting and sound.