A poignant rendition of Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) by Connie (Caterham School, Surrey) and a touching take on Jacques (As You Like It) by Louis (City of London Academy Shoreditch Park) were the winning performances at the grand final of this year’s ESU Performing Shakespeare competition, held – where better? – at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
The Don Miller award, voted for by the audience, went to Ila from Manchester High School for Girls, whose interpretation of the high-spirited, talkative nurse from Romeo and Juliet had the spectators in stitches. Other highlights included Felix from Beechwood Park School, whose expressive Ariel (The Tempest) invited us to consider the play’s parallels with the present, particularly regarding the reception of refugees fleeing domestic and political conflict. Dea and Tara from Didcot Girls’ School presented the crackle and pop of Helena and Hermia (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Amelia from St Mary’s Calne put a feminist spin on Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), and Sam Goldsmith from Tiffin School, portraying Shylock’s revenge speech from The Merchant of Venice, pleaded with the audience to recognise their common humanity.
The grand final was the culmination of a competition in which many hundreds of children have taken part across England and Wales. All grand finalists received a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, a professionally-led workshop, and individual feedback from a panel of esteemed judges comprising Jacqui O’Hanlon MBE, director of Learning and National Partnerships at the Royal Shakespeare Company; RADA-trained actor Neil Hancock; author and Shakespeare specialist Dr. Victoria Sparey; actor, composer and theatre director John Pfumojena; lecturer in Early Modern Literature Dr. Jo Esra; and leading intellectual property barrister and former World Public Speaking Champion Benet Brandreth QC.
Jacqui O’Hanlon, chair of the judges, said, ‘We have been incredibly moved and incredibly inspired by each of the young actors here today. As actors ourselves, we want to come to these plays as if the ink is still wet on the page. We don’t come to them as plays that have been performed time and time again. We want to treat them as new words, newly minted. And we really saw and heard that today.’
The prestigious Performing Shakespeare competition was started 10 years ago by the London branch of the English-Speaking Union working closely with the then Director General, Peter Kyle OBE, a former CEO of Shakespeare’s Globe. The competition now involves hundreds of students each year and covers all areas of England and Wales. Pupils between the ages of 11 and 14 are invited to perform a monologue or duologue from any of Shakespeare’s texts in whichever way they choose. Crucially, students must also introduce their performance, thereby enhancing their oracy, public speaking and engagement skills.
Pictured, from left: Ila, Connie, competition compère Jennifer Rigby and Louis