Imagine a collection of Shakespeare’s most famous characters sat in a classroom to take a GCSE together and you are picturing ‘Excluded’, currently running at St Saviour’s Church, Walton Place, London, SW3 1SA, (that’s Knightsbridge if you were wondering)
The production by Intermission youth theatre explores the theme of exclusion through Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet has lost his dad and is struggling to come to terms with his mum’s new relationship, Romeo is love struck, Shylock doesn’t fit in, Bottom is the class clown and Miss Portia is charged with educating them while issues beyond the classroom distract them from their studies.
The actors have a deep understanding of the characters they are playing but the action is most definitely taking place in the edgy atmosphere of a London classroom. The teacher deals with lateness, students who don’t have the proper equipment, conflict between individuals, lack of revision and students whose grades are impacted by what is happening for them beyond the classroom. At the same time the cast present themselves as a community whose behaviour is impacted by the presence or absence of key individuals and the pressure of the outside world where everything depends on the grades they achieve in their exams.
The play runs for 90 minutes but almost as interesting is the talk back session that happens with the cast at the end. Here we learn that the cast of 29 have been working with the writer Darren Raymond for the last 10 months. Aged between 16 and 25 they have come to the church every week to explore the characters and work with Darren to write and produce the play. They had the chance to audition for up to three characters (although it became apparent most ended up playing characters they didn’t audition for). In the course of the workshops they attended they realised that 27 of the 29 actors had been excluded from school at some point in their education and this was how their play came to be set in a school.
The actors shared how taking part in the project had changed their lives. As well as exclusion between them they had experience of gangs, of friends having being stabbed, of homelessness, drugs, family breakdown many described themselves as having not been very nice people. The experience of being part of this production had taught them about commitment and sticking at something and they felt that they had become part of a community. It was great to experience their confidence interacting with members of the audience and to hear how they had come to love Shakespeare having hated their experiences of studying it at school and felt excluded from something they regarded as not for people like them.
The play runs until the 30th of November.