Whitgift School’s young thespians perform Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
December 2016 will go down in Whitgift School’s history as being a triumph for Whitgift drama, as the school’s young thespians joined forces with professional actors and put on a tremendous account of, arguably, Shakespeare’s greatest play. The cast, ranging from Upper First to Upper Sixth Form, fearlessly took on the task of acting in verse and made it look effortless. It was especially exciting to have experienced film, television and theatre actors, Keith Bartlett (Polonius), Marcus Gilbert (Claudius) and Wanda Opalinska (Gertrude), raising the bar with the already talented students and ensuring the relevant contrast between youth and maturity in the play was apparent.
Indeed, while it was not Whitgift’s first foray of performing Hamlet – renowned actor and Old Whitgiftian, Martin Jarvis, took on the title role in the 1960s as an 18-year-old – it was Director, Mr Daniel Pirrie’s, first play at Whitgift. The actor-turned-English teacher drew upon his invaluable experience at Shakespeare’s Globe to turn the Headmaster’s ambitious vision into reality; a particularly special undertaking close to Dr Barnett’s heart, ahead of his retirement in 2017.
This choice of play from Shakespeare’s repertoire is also fitting, as it marks not only the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, but also an interesting connection between our School Founder and The Bard. John Whitgift had chief responsibility for censorship in the late 16th century, and it was due to his clemency that Shakespeare’s most important works escaped possible suppression.
History aside, it was a great pleasure to see Big School transformed into the unusual traverse stage set-up, with ‘The Hamlet Company’ interacting with the audience, and making use of every corner of the space, including the balcony. There was a full Whitgift Chamber Orchestra on stage in all its glory; making Whitgift the first school to perform British composer, Walton’s, brooding score, created at Sir Laurence Olivier’s request for the Oscar-nominated film version. The role of Hamlet was shared between Upper Fifth Former, Jude Willoughby, and Lower Sixth Former, Oscar Nicholson, each with many a Whitgift production under their belts. Both were superb, commanding the stage and leading a talented cast – a successful collaboration between Whitgift, Old Palace and Caterham School – together with the orchestra and the creative masterminds behind the production, made this Hamlet a hugely memorable affair for each and every audience member.