Hackney children perform classics at UCL

15 July 2008

Hackney schoolchildren took over the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre last week in a double bill of Greek tragedy and comedy organised by alumni and current students from UCL Greek & Latin.

Xanthias and Dionysus

The eleven and twelve-year-olds from Benthal Primary and the Bridge Academy performed Aristophanes’ ‘Peace’ and ‘The Frogs’ on 7 July to parents, friends, teachers and members of the UCL community.

Lorna Robinson and Graham Kirby, both UCL Greek & Latin graduates, directed the plays, using translations that Graham had written especially for the shows. Some of the highlights included the argument between Aeschylus and Euripides over who was the better poet, and a chorus of croaking frogs commenting on the action.

The plays were the culmination of the Hackney Schools Drama Project – a series of workshops run at schools over the past term by the two alumni. The workshops were designed to introduce the children to Greek and modern drama, performing arts skills and the university environment. The project, which was the brainchild of Lorna and Graham, also involved a trip for the children to the University of London Festival of Greek Drama to experience the workings of a professional theatre and to meet student actors.

The project was supported by UCL Widening Participation, the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre and UCL Greek & Latin, whose current students Lisa Gosbee and Laura Hoyle designed the costumes and helped rehearse the children in the school playgrounds. The shows will be performed at the schools this week.

Lorna Robinson said: “The performances were the result of a year-long pilot to promote classics and classical theatre in schools and communities who might not otherwise have access to the subject. Providing high-quality performing arts opportunities in an educational environment can stimulate creative thinking, increase confidence, enhance concentration and communication skills, and build better teamwork amongst pupils. The plays also have themes, such as social responsibility, that link into the school curriculum. The students, from UCL Greek & Latin and UCL French, were incredibly committed, coming along to rehearsals every week and getting to know the children.”

Frog from the chorus

Professor Chris Carey (UCL Greek and Latin) commented: “This has been a great success, for the schools, the pupils and our student tutors. The Hackney Schools Drama Project is the second phase of our engagement with Hackney schools. It’s important for children of all ages to engage with different cultures, past and present. It’s also important for them to encounter university – and real students – at close quarters and see it as a real option for them personally, and the younger the better. These plays are an ideal vehicle because they are enormous fun and can be appreciated by a wide audience. The children did a very good job; I was impressed that they were never intimidated by the scale of the theatre. They’d put a lot of work into learning their lines and getting into character.”

Rebecca Reed, Education Officer at the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre, added: “We strive to use our theatre not only as a core community resource but also as a means of raising awareness of and interest in higher education among students from our local boroughs. The education department at the theatre is funded by the Widening Participation unit at UCL, and our co-operate aim is to promote and provide the opportunity of successful participation in higher education to everyone who can benefit from it. This is vital for social justice and economic competitiveness.”

The Hackney Schools Drama Project forms part of The Iris Project, an educational charity established by Lorna Robertson that promotes access to Classical subjects in UK state schools.

Images: Schoolchildren perform ‘The Frogs’ in the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre

UCL and local schools
UCL strives to provide exceptional educational opportunities to everyone who can benefit from them, particularly those on our doorstep. The strength of our commitment to local schoolchildren and students is epitomised by our longstanding relationship with City & Islington College, and our new role as sponsor for an Academy to be built in Camden. We also run a range of activities throughout the year within UCL and in schools to bring children into close contact with the university environment.

Related links
UCL to sponsor Camden Academy
UCL Widening Participation