Shakespeare has found a way into most of our lives, whether at school unwillingly, at the theatre gladly or in our daily language unnoticed. We all know the great loves he wrote of, the fantastical creations, the tragic peaks and troughs of the most famous throughout history, but Shakespeare’s fame doesn’t go all the way to explaining the reason that his plays remain such a significant part of the current school syllabus. Tonight, I am reminded why. Intermission Youth Theatre prove the power of theatre and the written word in a play which centres around an education system whose protocols saw all but two of this young company excluded.
Excluded takes place at a London secondary school following some of Shakespeare’s most beloved as they get ready to sit their GCSEs. As a concept it sounds like familiar territory – take a Shakespeare play and revamp it by setting it in the here and now, but few can do it with the same authenticity as this youth company.
Intermission Youth Theatre operates as a ten month programme for vulnerable young people who may be facing challenges in both their home and school life. It provides their members with training which aims to assist them creatively and beyond. Their outreach within the community covers schools, pupil referral units and prisons. Not only is it a wonderful initiative, but it gives this company a unique insight to the education system which this play tackles head on.
Darren Raymond’s script acts as a microphone for the issues this cast want to address, an intention which is made all the more effective by the script’s inclusion of cast-led discussions which took place during the devising process. The script balances comedy and sincerity more successfully than many shows I have seen. It has great pace, interesting content, but most significantly, it has an utterly superb cast bringing it to life.
I cannot stress enough, the reason this piece is so brilliant is because of a cast bursting with talent. Shakespeare has been done and done again by some of the most well respected performers around. Trust me when I say, this cast could give them all a run for their money. Performing with an infectious energy and confident ease, their interpretation of scripts which are held so theatrically sacred is sublime. They perform with a depth of understanding which proves that Shakespeare’s legacy is well and truly alive. The cast is a large one, thus naming just a few would not do justice to a cast whose talent is truly special; all deserve the highest praise.
At the end the cast come onstage to take part in a brief after show discussion. When asked who liked Shakespeare in school, just one or two raise a hand. When asked again who likes Shakespeare now, all raise their hands with physical and vocal enthusiasm. This is a play at the heart of the debate surrounding school exclusions and a generic syllabus which makes little room for the individual, but don’t take my word for it. Go, watch, listen, this company has a lot to say – and my god do they say it well.
Excluded is playing St Saviour’s Church until 30 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Intermission Youth Theatre website.