Lights, Camera . . . Cucumber Sandwiches! 

At a time when theatre-makers around the world are suffering terribly from the impact of the pandemic, the Sixth Form cast and crew of this term’s production of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ feel extraordinarily lucky to be treading the boards and getting their work seen.

It hasn’t been a straightforward endeavour, of course. It was clear early on that there wouldn’t be an audience in the traditional sense, and socially distanced rehearsals are far from easy. However, in spite of these challenges the students put together three dazzling performances!

Instead of performing to a packed auditorium of parents and friends, the play was streamed live over YouTube directly from the stage. Split into three acts, viewers from as far afield as Canada, Germany and Hong Kong (as well as plenty of viewers in the UK) watched a different 30 minute “episode” on the consecutive nights. And if you’re imagining a traditional school-play-recording from the back of the hall, where you just about make out who is who and certainly can’t hear what they’re saying – think again!

The Peter Burke Theatre was transformed into a proper TV studio, complete with a three-camera set-up, state of the art mics and even a visual mixing desk, meaning that viewers were treated to seamless close-ups of the actors. It really was extremely professional!

Not only was it wonderful that so many people could watch the play, but it also meant that, instead of quick scene changes, the set could be wholly transformed for each separate act! We were transported from Algernon’s trendy, London pad in the first act, to Jack’s English country garden in act two, before finishing off the final act inside Jack’s palatial drawing room. 

For many of the Upper Sixth cast and crew involved, it was their last of many productions at Clayesmore. And wow, have they gone out with a bang!

Lucy M’s sneering Lady Bracknell was superbly acerbic in her put-downs. Jacob D and Ringo P, playing Algernon and Jack respectively, portrayed the two protagonists as playful, narcissistic dandys. What “young scoundrels” they both were! Charlotte K’s portrayal of the “sweet and innocent” Cecily was a nuanced demonstration in how to hit all the right comedic notes. And Tom M’s sanctimonious Reverend Chasuble was marvellously self-righteous – we especially liked the awkward chemistry the vicar had with Miss Prism.

It was also crew-members Sam J, Will M and Brynn D’s final production at Clayesmore. They performed their roles admirably, learning a huge amount about studio-style camera operating and stage-management along the way.

Olga W, Alma A-V, Maddie M and Oli B also contributed to the production with professionalism and dedication in makeup, costume, and the lighting & sound departments. In the Lower Sixth, Jess G delivered Gwendolen’s quips expertly and with “wonderful expression” whilst Maja S’s up-tight Miss Prism captured Wilde’s humour expertly. Finally Rupert C multi-roled as both Algernon and Jack’s Butlers at different stages of the production. His dithering Merriman was reminiscent of Julie Walters in Acorn Antiques. Very funny indeed!

All the students really should be extremely proud of what they have achieved, and whilst we clearly hope to welcome back audiences to the Peter Burke Theatre soon, we hope that in the meantime, you’ve felt like you’ve been with us in spirit!

That’s a wrap!