Students from Battersea School take the stage and play Shakespeare

Battersea School fifth graders performed an adaptation of two plays by William Shakespeare this week. A tradition for the “young deans” of the school, who “celebrate their departure from university in the best possible way,” according to Cecilia Beylefeld, deputy director of the establishment.

At Battersea School, theater is a real institution. An experience made possible by the founder of the establishment, Mirella Otten. Surprised to see that French schools did not have enough space for artistic subjects, this art lover chose to draw inspiration from the English curriculum – which was freer – to create a unique establishment that still exists at the time. She admired the work of William Shakespeare and wanted her students to be able to perform the British playwright’s plays before leaving school. A successful bet, judging by the two performances this week.

Cécilia, which piece have you chosen for the CM2 students to play this year?

At the end of each year, CM2 students perform a Shakespearean play. This time they play a mix of two plays by the playwright, “The Tempest” and “Much Ado About Nothing”. To ensure that there are enough roles for the children to all enter the stage, we have created “A lot of noise before a storm”, a free interpretation of the two texts and an adaptation that is also easier for young people to understand. understanding, budding actors.

Why did you choose to organize two performances?

The work delivered is such that a single performance sometimes makes the students dissatisfied. This year we have therefore decided that the CM2s will perform twice, even if it takes a lot of energy. This decision was very much appreciated by the students, who will keep an even more precise memory of this experience.

How do you prepare children for this exercise?

Every student is different, but we take into account all their characters so that they feel as comfortable as possible on stage. We also try to ensure that the roles between the children are balanced. That everyone can sing, for example, even if not everyone declares the same number of rules. In addition, we let children get used to the theater from an early age. Every year we organize a show for every class in the school. Up to CM1, students perform in both English and French, with lyrics and songs in both languages. The CM2 are an exception, as Shakespeare is only performed in English. It is a way to show parents the progress of their children in mastering the language.

Students from Battersea School take the stage and play Shakespeare

The show lasts over an hour and a half, it is a real challenge for the students…

Yes, it’s true, our project is ambitious for ten-year-old children. The first part of the performance lasts an hour. After a short break, our new comedians return to the stage for another 45 minutes. That’s why the show requires a lot of preparation. Students train for six weeks in small groups at a brisk pace, but without disrupting academic work. After learning the songs and lyrics, they rehearse their choreography. To make this work more exciting for children, we incorporate modern songs into the piece.

How exactly do children experience the fact that they have to go on stage to play Shakespeare?

For two years the Covid prevented us from organizing our traditional year-end shows. Our students are no longer used to playing in front of an audience. Yet most of them are happy to show their parents the work done. It is also a real pleasure for the teachers to see their progress. Theater gives children confidence, even the most shy at first. Some are pushed out of their comfort zone, while others are more confident in realizing how hard it is to play Shakespeare and the work that needs to be done. We strive to be nice to everyone, bringing out everyone’s strengths, revealing their talents, whether it’s directing or singing, for example. All this so that they can give their best and be proud of their performance on the day of the show.

The costumes are also part of the show…

Indeed, the aesthetics of the room is very important to us. That is why we attach great importance to the quality of the sets and acting in costumes that remind the audience of Shakespeare’s time. The outfits are adaptable from year to year, but if necessary, teachers and teaching staff enrich the costumes with the help of accessories provided by the parents who like to play the game. For example, this year we’re bringing the police into the show. So we asked parents if they could lend caps. The whole show is the result of the work of a large number of actors to make the show unforgettable. The two performances were a real success and the actors, all ten years old, left the stage to applaud and with stars in their eyes, like all parents, of course in heaven.

Practical information

Address : Battersea School, Trott St, London SW11 3DS, UK

Contact : +44 20 7924 3186

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