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Excluded (Susan Elkin reviews)

By Darren Raymond. Inspired by William Shakespeare
society/company: Intermission Youth Theatre
performance date: 09 Nov 2019
venue: Intermission Theatre, St Saviour’s Church, Walton Place, London SW3 1SA

We’re in a London secondary school where a group of young people are about to take their GCSEs. Sounds like any other youth theatre ensemble piece? Well not, when you realise that this school is called William High School, the teacher is called Miss Portia and the students have names such as Caesar, Isabel, Beatrice, Shylock, Brutus, Romeo … well you get the drift.

Intermission Theatre’s mission is “acting to save young lives”. Each year it recruits, from all across London, vulnerable young people living in socially-economically challenging environments and experiencing high levels of anti-social behaviour, family breakdown, dependency and criminality – and works artistic miracles with them. Artistic Director, Darren Raymond’s trademark working method is to rework Shakespeare by addressing current issues and devising work using a blend of London street-speak and the original language of the plays. This time, Raymond and the group have, I think broken new ground – even by Intermission standards – and excelled themselves.

The play explores how these complicated, issue-affected characters might be if they were in their mid teens and all in the same place. It’s a fascinating concept because, of course, all the things which worry 21st century young people are there for the plucking in the plays – lots of knife crime (Julius Caesar, Macbeth), drugs (Romeo and Juliet), sexual abuse (Measure for Measure, Othello), family disfunction (Hamlet), racism (The Merchant of Venice) and so on. The format also allows Beatrice to tell Romeo what she thinks and Macbeth to be one of the conspirators planning to knife Caesar in an alley for example, But however well you know the plays and recognise lines and speeches here and there nothing prepares you for the shock and horror of the surprise end.

The huge cast all do a grand job, heckling in class, introducing themselves, acting short scenes to such an extent that it seems almost unfair to single out individuals, Nonetheless Ashley Hodges puts in an exceptionally naturalistic performance as the teacher who more or less manages to hang on to control of her class and to establish a rapport with them as individuals. She’s very convincing – and wise. Crear Antony is excellent value as Bottom too – convinced she’s going to be a wonderful professional actor, full of herself and frequently launching into speeches at which others groan. I particularly enjoyed Andrew Senesie’s take on Othello too and Oliver Knight finds a lovely brittle angst in Hamlet.

This play is a magnificent achievement on several levels. For a start it’s strong theatre by any standards. It’s also very encouraging to see drama becoming such a powerful tool to support people at risk of a wide range of unfortunate outcomes, Third I am always moved at the sight of young people doing well at anything, There’s a lot of talent in this group some of whom might eventually work professionally in the performing arts. Many others will now feel empowered and confident as they work in other fields. Whoever the next Secretary of State for Education is, he or she, should make it a priority to get along to Knightsbridge and look at this work.

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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