King Lear Conference

On Wednesday 7th October, Chew Valley School’s ‘A’ level English and Drama students spent the day at The Royal Shakespeare company in Stratford, attending a King Lear conference and performance organised by The RSC.

The day began with a presentation from Dr Nick Walton of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who examined the original performance conditions of the play. By looking at how different these conditions were, our students were able to gain a clear picture of how King Lear might have been staged when it was first performed at The Globe Theatre in 1606. This will be of most use for the A level Dramatists as they prepare for their written exam. It also gave an insight into why and how the play was written.

Next came the highlight of the day for most. We met the Assistant Director Anna Girvan and two cast members, who discussed the key themes and issues that this particular production focussed on. This session not only ensured students were aware of the Director’s concept but, more importantly, allowed our students the chance to direct and appear on stage with Paapa Essiedu (Edmund). We looked at alternate ways of playing Act 1 scene 2, when the illegitimate Edmund is plotting the downfall of his brother Edgar. The actors were both gracious and encouraging and it was incredible to see how subtle changes could be made to a speech following a specific piece of direction. The actors and Director also confirmed that each production is different, depending on the reactions and energy of the audience.

After lunch we were given a 2 hour voice workshop by Kate Godfrey, The RSC’s Head of Voice, in one of the theatre’s rehearsal rooms. Here we looked in specific detail at King Lear’s famous ‘Blow winds’ speech from Act 3 scene 2 of the play. The students tried the exercises that the professional cast used, examining how certain words and vowel sounds could be emphasised to communicate meaning more effectively to an audience.

As the conference drew to a close, we met Kelly Williams and Natalie Simpson, the actors who played Regan and Cordelia – Lear’s youngest daughters. Along with Anna Girvan, they discussed the role that the three daughters have in the play and how this production communicated this to the audience; again giving students the chance to ask about the rehearsal process and creative decisions that were made by the company.

Finally, at 7.15, we watched the production which, after the rare insights into the creative process we had been given, was incredible.

This was a long but extremely worthwhile and enjoyable day. It was incredible to have access to so many members of The RSC and a pleasure to spend it in the company of such an intelligent and enthusiastic bunch of students – to one of whom Paapa Essiedu asked , ‘Have you ever thought of becoming a theatre director?’