Pupils from St Joseph’s Primary School made their West End debut at a gala marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
More than 50 primary, secondary and special school pupils performed with professionals Paterson Joseph, Jessica Hynes and Arthur Darvill, at London’s Piccadilly Theatre, on Monday, April 19 during the Shakespeare School’s Festival Gala.
Children from St Joseph’s performed Twelfth Night before a sold out audience.
Seth Mangundu, aged 11, who took the part of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, said: “It was an extraordinary experience. We got to see how famous actors like Arthur, Paterson and Jessica really do it, which was really impressive. My dad saw me as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a London theatre and I know he was really proud of me!”
Tara Flynn, teacher at St Joseph’s, said: “It’s easy to think that Shakespeare is too much of a challenge for primary aged children – or something they wouldn’t be interested in. But our parents and school community were absolutely wowed by our pupils’ performance and the impact on their confidence.
“Seeing our children putting on Twelfth Night in the West End was a highlight in my teaching career. It makes me incredibly proud.”
Festival chief executive Ruth Brock said the importance of Shakespeare is not about the past, but his impact on the next generation.
She said: “In 2016, if those who already love Shakespeare talk only to others who love Shakespeare, we’ve failed. The challenge of performing, on a professional stage in the West End or in their local town, can transform children’s lives - building confidence, literacy and teamwork. To mark his 400th anniversary we should look to the future and equip young people with those life skills, whatever stage they’ll walk onto – be it boardroom, factory floor or operating theatre.
“Too many young people think Shakespeare is not for them, for a different class or a different age. Shakespeare is as much the property of a six-year-old wheelchair user as a 60-year-old academic. It should be as relevant to a 10-year-old in Luton as it is to a theatre critic.”
Jessica Hynes, actor, said: “Its such a thrill to see Shakespeare being performed with such natural passion and enthusiasm. I was so impressed by the intensity of their performances – these young people have totally tuned in to the purity of the emotion at the heart of the plays.
“Cuts in state education, and the arts in particular, mean access to this kind of creative learning opportunity is dwindling, especially for those from low income backgrounds. I’m supporting programmes across the UK like Arts Emergency and Shakespeare Schools Festival to ensure that kids with backgrounds like mine aren’t locked out of the next creative generation. Tonight’s performers were a joy to watch and work with.”