Second year of Shakespeare Schools Festival hosted at Magdalen

06 June 2023

After a successful pilot in 2022, in March of 2023 Magdalen College once again hosted four state schools as part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival by the Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation (CSSF).

Following months of rehearsals and learning about Shakespeare, each school’s cast of 14-15 year olds came to stay at Magdalen for a two-day residential programme . Two schools, Bluecoat Wollaton Academy (Nottingham) and Maltby Academy (Rotherham) returned to Magdalen having participated in 2022. They were joined by Farnborough Spencer Academy (Nottingham) and Chaucer School (Sheffield).

A modernised Julius Caesar by Bluecoat Wollaton Academy

While at Magdalen, the students enjoyed a lecture on their chosen play by Magdalen professor Dr Sophie Duncan; printed their own bookplates to take home along with a free copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare; and took part in a drama workshop led by the President of the Oxford University Drama Society.

On the final evening of the residential, all four casts performed abridged versions of their chosen Shakespeare plays in the Magdalen Auditorium, using professional lighting and sound, to an enthusiastic audience consisting of Magdalen students, staff and Fellows, and guests.

Some atmospheric witches in Macbeth by Maltby Academy

Feedback from the programme was positive, with participants mentioning the performance, new experiences and meeting new people, and being able to stay in Magdalen as some of their favourite parts.

Many commented not only on how enjoyable it was to be on stage themselves, but also how much they liked seeing the other schools’ performances and interpretations of the plays. One pupil’s favourite part was “performing, because I showed what I can do on stage”, while another commented that they loved “watching the performances because they were great”!

“It was a educating experience that still allowed us to experiment and have fun with our plays and appreciate others, it was amazing and I wish I could thank everyone at the Festival for giving me this experience.”

Farnborough spencer academy pupil
Pyramus’ dramatic death in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Farnborough Spencer Academy

Many of the students were interested in one day going to a top university after the event, with one participant telling us they liked “having the actual experience of being at university”. Another mentioned that “it was really eye opening living as students away from our families”.

Teachers told us some lovely individual success stories, such as one student who “is now set on going to university, something which he has previously said he wasn’t capable of doing”. A performer from another school “was beaming with a sense of achievement” when he managed to learn all his lines!

Magdalen’s Senior Outreach and Access Officer, Nuala Marshall, said “Hosting the Shakespeare Schools Festival was such a joy; the students were full of energy and enthusiasm, asking lots of questions and cheering each other on during the performance night. We hope they enjoyed themselves as much as we did!”

Stormy seas during The Tempest by Chaucer School

The event was initiated by the President’s husband, Peter Kessler, and was a collaborative project between CSSF and the Magdalen College outreach team.

We’d like to say a special thank you to alumnus Steven Parker (1977) for supporting the event.

All photos taken and provided by Splaat Photo