Attending a ‘Schools’ Performance of ‘Twelfth Night’ at the stunningly recreated ‘Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’ in York on a Monday morning in mid – July was the highlight of recent visit to York for me. The noisy chattering of excited children ferried into their seats by their teachers was contagious! I was sat behind a group of girls who happily chatted to me telling me they were from a school in Lincoln whilst offering me some Butterkist popcorn. Another inquired if I had ever had a had popcorn sandwiched between Haribos. I responded it sounded disgusting, but I was reassured ‘it was really nice’!
Midway through the play I was politely asked if I would remove a money spider from one of the girl’s hand and I was most happy to come to her rescue. I felt rather like a fly on the wall being privy to the reactions of a theatre full of children whose ages varied from Year 3’s to those in Year 10. I happened to be sitting next to a member of staff from The Rose Theatre who shared with me that this was the most accessible and fun of their programme of plays this season to introduce youngsters to Shakespeare.
The actors entered through the Groundling area and chatted to startled and amused youngsters and their teachers and it was clear that this was going to be very much an interactive and fun fuelled few hours. The fourth wall was crashed through with direct eye contact with their young audience who revelled in being very much included and acknowledged in the action that unfolded. Although saying that a group of teenage boys who were groundings looked terrified when several cast members got them up to dance with them at the close of the play when infectious jazz music left us all wanting more!! I asked the group of Year 8 girls sitting in front of me what they thought of it and they grinned and said, ‘It was amazing!’ On asking one of the girls what her favourite part was she looked slightly flustered before responding ‘all of it!’
Highlights for me during the performance included a girl of around 10 who was sat next to me looking puzzled when Orsino leans into kiss Cesario. The girl leaned over to her teacher and whispered, ‘Has she told him that she is really a girl?’ The teacher simply smiled and replied ‘no, not yet but he is falling in love with Cesario’ leaving the girl utterly confused! Another memorable reaction from the young audience for me was when the group of Year 8 girls in front of me exchanged giggles then looks of horror when a playful Maria takes hold of Sir Andrew Agucheek’s hand and repeatedly places it on her breast, not once but three times!
Across the opposite side of the theatre sat several rows of children around 7 or 8 years who elbowed each other and laughed delightedly at the many moments of visual humour and clowning around between Maria, Sir Toby and Fabian throughout the play.
When Malvolio rips off his trousers to reveal himself ‘cross gartered’ it was received with squeals of delight from the audience. Five minutes later I noticed a young lad in the audience was miming what he saw to his friends either side of him much to their amusement.
Fuelled by the fast-paced action, intoxicating blues music and clowning around, the children left the theatre spilling out onto the ‘Shakespeare Village’ on a theatrical high, swapping anecdotes with their friends in little huddles as they re-lived the joys of a Shakespearean performance!
The Rose ‘Pop -up Theatre’ continues to perform on rotation Hamlet, Henry V, The Tempest and Twelfth Night until 1 September in York before it closes until summer 2020.