From Grimm to Grease

It’s Greased Lightning at the Royal Grammar School (RGS) this month as Jesmond’s brightest young acting talent graces the stage in productions which will sample some of the world’s best-loved theatre. A roll-call of family favourites are included in this ambitious new drama festival, with Grease, History Boys and Grimm Tales just some of the creative works on offer in the event, which runs from the 5th to the 8th of April.

With roles ranging from light technician to lead protagonist, a large number of pupils aged between 11 and 18 will be involved. The productions will all take place within the school’s venues, from the traditional backdrop of the 1920s Studio Theatre to state-of-the-art PAC Theatre, which was opened in 2005.

The theme for the festival is “Astonish Me” – the famous demand often made by Ballet Russes founder and impresario Serge Diaghilev. RGS headmaster Dr. Bernard Trafford told JesmondLocal, “We’ve been doing a few ambitious things – but I never expected anything quite as crazy as this.

“Seven plays performed at least twice each in the course of four days, with four performance slots a day, constitute a hugely demanding schedule for actors, directors and technical crews.But the point is that our talented and immensely committed students are up for the challenge.

“They will rise to it and make it a huge success, even if they are on their knees at the end. That’s what an enterprising and challenging education is all about – I can’t wait.”

Two new and entirely original productions top the bill. Seventeen-year-old sixth former Rose Naing has written and is directing (and acting in) Tracing Lines, describing the excitement and angst of being a sixth former.

What Makes a Man and What Makes a Woman is a devised piece exploring the areas made obvious in the title. The cast of 10 sixth formers have been developing this piece organically over the past term: it’s a piece of explorative physical theatre and the audience, surrounded by video screens, will be right in the middle of the drama which involves the use of film and dance.

There will be a modern classic to see, too. Alan Bennett’s recent but enormously acclaimed The History Boys will receive a highly unusual performance: matching the spirit of the play, the sixth form boys of the title will be played by RGS students, while the teachers will be played by adults, mostly teachers but one professional actor, Richard Makepeace, in the central role of Hector. The other distinctive feature about this production is that it will be a ‘peripatetic’ one. A small audience will follow the action around the school, from the school hall into a classroom, into the staff room, to the Head’s study: the action will move into those real settings in a highly original approach which might prove as demanding for the audience as for the actors.

Three sixth formers will bring to life John Godber’s minimalist play Bouncers. The three actors play all the parts: they are the bouncers on the door of a nightclub on a Friday night, but they are also the punters, the sad drinkers, the lads on the make, even the giggly girls, not to mention the Hooray Henries. Strong language and some tough stuff: it may be a more conventional performance, but it will still be demanding for the audience.

Students in Years 8-10 (13-15-year-olds) are mounting what is described as a cut-down performance of the musical Grease. Within the constraints of the festival it is a studio rather than a glamorous production – but the band, the music, the singing, the dancing and the acting will all be there.

The youngest senior school students, 11-12-year-olds, will be bringing to life six brilliant adaptations for the National Theatre by poet Carol Ann Duffy of the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Snow WhiteThe Musicians of BremenHansel and Gretel,The Lady and the LionThe Bird, The Mouse and the Sausage and Rumpelstiltskin will all transport their audiences into a magical world.

For more information on the festival programme, events and tickets, visit the festival website. Tickets are available from Jill Graham, 0191 2128930.