Seeing things…

At Late we think it’s a great idea to make the most of London and her resources. In the last few posts I’ve mostly talked about how we can use it in our teaching and with our students but of course we should be using it ourselves too. Galia is a member of the LATE committee and is an avid theatre goer. Below she shares some of the theatre she’s loved recently and in future we’ll be posting about some of the other theatrical and cultural highlights for London English teachers. Please do comment if you’ve got any other ideas or recommendations.

I See Things by Galia Admoni

I’m a Lead Practitioner at a school in North London and I see things. Not dead people or anything. Theatre, mostly. I’ve lived in London my whole life and I’ve been lucky enough to have visited lots of theatres across the city over the years, however since becoming a teacher the visits have become more and more frequent. I think I might have a problem actually. I’m really excited to be sharing my top theatre picks with you and I look forward to hearing your views too – you can comment below or follow me on twitter here: @galiamelon

So read on, and turn yourself into a regular Samuel Beckett with conversation starters like… “what is that unforgettable line?”

My London theatre highlights for April 2017

Consent by Nina Raine (National Theatre) – playing until 17th May 2017

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What they say: Why is Justice blind? Is she impartial? Or is she blinkered? Friends take opposing briefs in a rape case. The key witness is a woman whose life seems a world away from theirs. At home, their own lives begin to unravel as every version of the truth is challenged. Consent, Nina Raine’s powerful, painful, funny play sifts the evidence from every side and puts justice herself in the dock.

What I say: ‘Painfully funny’, this is a beautifully acted piece of drama that succeeds elegantly in making the political, personal. The dialogue is fast-paced, holding a mirror up to the intelligent humour and terrifying flaws embedded within the modern legal system. Some of the characters, at times, are truly abhorrent, and yet Raine’s considered character exploration means that they also seem so very human, so very complex and all illicit a measure of sympathy from the audience, in surprising and affecting ways. Nina Raine is definitely a writer that I’ll be looking out for in the future.

See this if: you are interested in how societies’ ‘big questions’ actually impact on people’s everyday lives; you are open to seeing something that might challenge your views and you are comfortable with laughing at what some may deem ‘inappropriate’!

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (National Theatre) – playing until 13th May 2017

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What they say: A ship is wrecked on the rocks. Viola is washed ashore but her twin brother Sebastian is lost. Determined to survive on her own, she steps out to explore a new land. So begins a whirlwind of mistaken identity and unrequited love. The nearby households of Olivia and Orsino are overrun with passion. Even Olivia’s upright housekeeper Malvolia is swept up in the madness. Where music is the food of love, and nobody is quite what they seem, anything proves possible. Simon Godwin directs this joyous new production with Tamsin Greig as a transformed Malvolia.

What I say: As a confirmed Bardolator, it’s unsurprising that I loved this play. What is perhaps surprising however is that so has everyone else I know who has seen it – it’s been an all-out-smash! Tamsin Greig brings a spicy, yet sympathetic flavour to Malvolia; in fact the entire company dazzle in this raucous and beautifully designed piece. The ‘vintage’ feel of the design is really appealing to watch and Shakespeare’s language never fails to impress, whether touching or vulgar!

See this if: you want a feel good, easy watch, but still enjoy the challenge and intricacies of a full length Jacobean comedy.

Ugly Lies the Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino (National Theatre) – playing until 6th June 2017

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What they say: ‘Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bone; beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds its own.’ After three tours in Afghanistan, Jess finally returns to Florida. In a small town on the Space Coast, as the final shuttle is about to launch, Jess must confront her scars – and a home that may have changed even more than her. Experimenting with a pioneering virtual reality therapy, she builds a breathtaking new world where she can escape her pain. There, she begins to restore her relationships, her life and, slowly, herself. Award-winning American playwright Lindsey Ferrentino makes her UK debut with this honest and funny new drama, directed by Inghu Rubasingham (The Motherf**ker with the Hat).

What I Say: A beautifully subtle yet powerful examination of some incredibly relevant, contemporary issues, through the lens of one family’s struggles. High concept design and a heartbreaking performance from all, flecked with touching comedy to keep it all feeling so, so human. Ralf Little and Kris Marshall’s performances are both highlights.

See this if: you like theatre that addresses up-to-date issues.

My Country; a work in progress in the words of people across the UK and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy (National Theatre) – on tour until July 2017

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What they say: Britannia calls a meeting to listen to her people. Caledonia, Cymru, East Midlands, North East, Northern Ireland and the South West bring the voices of their regions. The debate is passionate, the darts are sharp, stereotypes nailed and opinions divided. Can there ever be a United Kingdom? In the days following the Brexit vote, a team from the National Theatre spoke to people nationwide, aged 9 to 97, to hear their views on the country we call home. In a series of deeply personal interviews, they heard opinions that were honest, emotional, funny, and sometimes extreme. These real testimonials are interwoven with speeches from party leaders of the time in this new play by Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate, and director Rufus Norris.

What I say: The poetry of Carol Ann Duffy is a melody that sings mellifluously above the ‘human music’ of this piece. The audience well and truly performed the ‘sacrament of listening’ throughout the performance. I have never experienced verbatim theatre in the flesh before and it was a visceral and emotionally charged occasion. And you couldn’t really get more relevant! Heartbreakingly funny too – because we all have to live together through the consequences of the decisions that we made for this country – for better or worse. Listening to the voices in this play though, helps me to feel like it’s not all doom and gloom. Real people should be listened to more often – if anything, that’s what this piece is a testament to.

See this if: you have an interest in people; you’re not afraid to have your views challenged and you love listening to gorgeously poetic language.

London Learning

At the last conference there was a huge celebration of the ways we can utilise London in our teaching of English. Museums are just one area that London has to offer and of course there are many others. We can look to our wide range of formal cultural institutions like the galleries and theatres, but also to the streets, parks and rivers that surround us.

Shared below are some of the fantastic ideas shared by King’s College London PGCE students for how to make the most of our beloved city.  As we look to that slightly more relaxed summer term or perhaps make plans for next year these trip suggestions could come in handy. You may well know all about the museums below and assume they have an education programme; however, the students have had time to explore the museums and consider other, creative ways you can build one of these museums into your study of a range of areas of English.

Dickens Museum and 19th Century London

Charlotte, Fahmida, Henna and Mariam explored the Charles Dickens Museum

The activities they came up with were aimed at understanding Dickens’ life and times. The museum offers its own programme of activities exploring Dickens’ texts but here are some ideas that could be used for understanding context in particular. For example you could create freeze frames in each room showing how it would have been used; create found poems using the plaques and extracts from Dickens’ writing; or take a walking tour of the area. They pointed out some of the fantastic apps you can use such as the blue plaque walk around the area.

Foundling museum at Coram Fields and 19th Century non-fiction ideas

Also in the Bloomsbury area is the Foundling Museum. Danielle Ashford, James Gallagher, Caroline Gooden, Zoe Mariner and John Moller visited to see how they could use the museum in the practice. They realised that the museum was potentially useful for a number of modern and Victorian texts such as: Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, An Inspector Calls (the institution was open until well into the 20th century), Coram Boy (the book is based on this specific foundling hospital) and Hetty Feather.

 

As well as being useful for exploring these literary texts, the museum is also a good base for research and introducing students to non-fiction writing. The following types of writing can be found in relation to the museum, such as testimonials from past residents scattered around the building, but also could be written by students after a visit:

  • Newspaper reports on the institution, admissions, the parents, social acceptance of the institution
  • Arguments for and against the Foundling Hospital’s establishment (it encouraged wantonness and prostitution)
  • Drafting of papers using same style of writing
  • Profiles and personal accounts

Responding to war at the IWM

The students who visited the Imperial War Museum had a difficult task in considering how they could students for an emotional trip full of quite gruelling details. They came up with creative ways of helping younger students to enjoy the day and be both informed and engaged with the tricky content of the museum.

They suggested introducing students to war literature before their visit so that they could understand the issues at hand and relate the things in the museum to their work in class. Texts they suggested were common class readers , such as the Boy in Striped Pyjamas or The Diary of Anne Frank as well as more unusual texts like Maus, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich and poems by holocaust and concentration camp victims.

One of the most interesting discoveries they made at the museum was RAF slang used by pilots. Trying to have conversations using the slang and exploring the language of war and battles was something the PGCE students found fun but also fascinating. In order to process some of what they have seen on the day, the students suggested a number of creative writing and discussion activities. Some of the best were: writing a postcard home from different types of people involved in the war and staging a radio show reporting on a key event from a war that they did not know much about before visiting.

The final group to present at our spring conference offered some interesting ways of using the Victoria and Albert Museum when teaching a play text. An important part of their proposed day out was familiarising the students with the museum set up, which is often crucial for students who do not regularly visit museums. For this they suggested a scavenger hunt around three of their personal favourite galleries, however it could be worth tailoring your hunt for interesting objects to the unit you’re studying.

They were particularly engaged with the theatre collection which is organised into different areas. These areas allow students to explore staging, costume, lighting and play scripts with hands on experimentation, dressing up and obviously historical artefacts. They suggested exploring the impact of all these different areas through actually seeing them and trying things out and then, when you get back to school, applying them to the text you are studying.

Things to note

  • The Dickens’ Museum is not wheelchair accessible as it is a narrow Georgian Terrace with a lot of stairs.
  • The Imperial War Museum will not allow younger students into the Holocaust Exhibition with good reason.
  • All the museums do offer their own learning programme but it’s nice to think of ways you can directly link the activities to your own class and their needs and interests.