Review: Derby pupils perform Romeo and Juliet, as part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival

Posted on October 24, 2014

Last week, students from Derby’s Royal School for the Deaf (RSD) took part in the Shakespeare School Festival for the first time.

The Shakespeare Schools Festival features over 35,000 young people taking to professional stages across the UK, at 130 venues. More than 1,000 primary, secondary and special schools around the country are taking part throughout October.

Alongside three other schools, the RSD were given a 30min slot to present their abridged version of a Shakespeare play. The plays were all performed on 17th October at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre.

As the only Deaf school participating in the festival, the RSD performed Romeo and Juliet in British Sign Language.

deaf r&j

The students were hugely excited by the opportunity to perform to a paying audience, in a professional setting; for many of them it was their first experience of being on stage. There was also the new challenge of using and translating Shakespeare’s language for the first time.

All of the 16 students involved were keen to show the people of Derby that even though they are deaf, they still have a voice, and that anyone can enjoy a show in sign language. As a company of actors, they really rose to the occasion.

Pete Meakin, Creative Producer of Derby Live, assisted by delivering practical workshops and helping the students develop their interpretation; a modern adaptation with a football-style Romeo and Juliet with Capulet County (Derby County) and Montague Forest (Nottingham Forest) rivalries.

With only a short rehearsal period of Tuesday and Thursday evenings since September, the professional standard of the show was even more remarkable. The tireless efforts of all involved were clear to see.

The visual imagery of sign language, combined with the use of Shakespearean themes and story led to a creative interpretation that really entertained, as well as showing just how captivating signed theatre can be for a mainstream audience.

RSD Head of English and Drama, Amy Ford, said; “They performed flawlessly and even though some of them were extremely nervous about going on stage two minutes before they performed, they still went on and shined with confidence, so that you would never have known.

“Everyone in the ensemble worked together well and it didn’t matter if they were the wall, the team, the trees, the citizens, they all acted with so much determination, everything was believable. They were a company to be proud of.

“The students were very proud of themselves and after they came off stage all they could say was ‘that was amazing’ and ‘can we do that all over again’.”

By Emily Howlett. Emily is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and teacher. Emily is co-director of PAD Productions and makes an awful lot of tea. And mess. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie. She tweets as @ehowlett

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