Portsmouth Grammar School pupils A School Drama

t the end of last term BBC Radio 4 Drama took up residence at leading independent Portsmouth Grammar School to record a four part play commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year.

The established thespian cast included Tom Hollander (Rev. and The Night Manager), Tony Gardner (The Thick of It and Last Tango in Halifax), Sian Gibson (Peter Kay’s Car Share) and Divian Ladwa (Detectorists) who took parts alongside PGS pupils and teachers.

The radio play School Drama is set at Deer Park Academy, a re-branded failing school that is working to turn itself around and inspire its students. One of its initiatives is to bring to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which is where the drama truly starts.

“It was such a pleasure working at the school, everyone we encountered was so friendly,” says John Dryden, Producer. “The actor/pupils who took part were just brilliant and inspiring, working so well with Tom Hollander and the other professional actors, it brought so much authenticity to the production. The process of making a location drama like this can be a slow one, the pupils were not only excellent in their roles, but very patient with us too!”

“It was amazing to be involved,” says Rebecca Emerton (Year 13), who played Naia and Juliet in the play. “Learning to act for the radio was a real challenge as I couldn’t rely on facial expressions and movement to help express my emotions, being used to stage acting I had to really learn how to bring it all down to communicating through just the words.”

Fellow pupil, Robert Merriam (Year 12) who played Ben, agreed, “It was difficult not to ‘read lines’ in the way you would normally and to act on a different level. Working in amongst professional actors and learning from watching them was a great experience.”

The writer Andy Mulligan drew on his real life experiences of teaching Romeo and Julietto a floundering school. “A few years ago I was hired to direct a Shakespeare play in a school that was inching out of special measures,” says writer Andy Mulligan. “The project foundered, partly because of internal politics and resentments, but also because the joy of interrogating a provocative play with teenagers didn’t sit well with a school frightened of upsetting parents. I should add, Portsmouth Grammar School is not at all like the one depicted in our drama, and is one completely supportive of the idea of the students working with adults in a creative environment!”

The radio play is available on BBC iPlayer – click here – Part One was broadcast on Wednesday 18 May at 14:15 on .

A piece by Andy Mulligan about the play can be read by clicking here.

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