Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.
Augusto Boal (Brazilian Theatre Practitioner)
Drama is at the centre of Dolphin School life. Whether that is dreaming up brand new creatures in an abandoned greenhouse or conversing in French with a refugee child in Victorian England. Imaginations are stretched, confidences are built and co-operative opportunities are positively welcomed.
Drama is regularly used as a tool in a wide variety of subjects and is taught as a curriculum subject from Year 3 upwards. Our students create, perform and respond to Drama, regularly in the course of their weekly lesson. Professionals from the theatre world visit us to run workshops on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from stage fighting to set design, and we are often to be found in the theatre watching eclectic, innovative pieces.
We hope to create dynamic, thought provoking and popular theatre, which not only challenges us, but our audiences as well. The majority of our annual three productions are devised by the children or written by the Head of Drama. Recent tours include performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, collaborating with Catalan actors in Barcelona to perform a tri-lingual piece at the Igualada Theatre Festival, and visiting local primary schools with a theatre in education piece about the Environment. The impact of these productions on the student can be, quite literally, life changing.
What a pleasure. Dolphin School has such a nice vibe; it’s a children’s utopia!
Julian Spooner, artistic director of Rhum and Clay Theatre Company
Adventures Further Afield
Staying at home has never been an option for the Drama department. We go to the theatre, visit Stratford upon Avon and London to look for traces of Will Shakespeare, explore backstage at the Royal Court Theatre, take our shows on tour all over Europe, are interviewed regularly on BBC Radio Berkshire and visit local schools to run Drama workshops. Exciting venues we have performed in include an old slaughter house in Barcelona, Lincoln’s Inn, South Street Arts Centre, the Wilde Theatre and a Methodist Church in Edinburgh. Check out our reviews below for recent Edinburgh Fringe performances and a brief account of our tour in Barcelona. Adventuring further afield encourages our students to ask questions, find answers, tell stories and engage creatively. It also might make us think about the world a little bit differently too.
Reviews from the British Theatre Guide
These Fragments ****
Dolphin Theatre Company is amongst the youngest groups performing at the Fringe. It returns for a second year with a brand new show, These Fragments, at the delightful new venue that Greenside has in Nicholson Square.
Written and inventively directed by Judy Seall, it opens on the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI.
This accomplished young company traces the journey of a tea tin that is passed down the generations through WWI to WWII and the present day conflicts.
The play opens in 1914 where Dan, a factory worker from Blackpool, meets Kate, a librarian, and an unusual romance develops between them. The accents are spot on.
The action then moves to 1940 where we meet a group of kids who have been evacuated but are so desperately unhappy that they run back to London to live in the bombed out houses, where they form the Garden Gang.
The company uses a variety of suitcases to good effect, as they become furniture, part of the trenches and various props.
This is very much an ensemble piece with strong use of physical theatre, beautifully formed tableaux and some powerful individual performances.
There is great playfulness from the Garden Gang as well as some sensitive emotive moments, especially when the action moves to a country resembling Syria.
Here a young injured girl waits with her nurse in an empty hospital in the hope of getting medical help.
There is also good use of humour, such as the lad who writes to God asking him, “to give Hitler a really bad toothache.”
This is an excellent, moving show with the young company performing with passion and a total commitment and the singing of the war songs adds poignancy to the piece.
Playing at 9:45 in the morning it is certainly worth getting up early to see these youngsters, whose age belies their talent.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp
Tales from the Tent *****
The plight of refugees and asylum seekers is given a refreshing twist by the talented youngsters from the Dolphin School Theatre Company’s Tales from the Tent.
They have worked with refugees and are raising funds for Refugee Relief as well as sending essential supplies to Calais with a personal note from the cast wishing the recipients well.
As a result, their current show, skilfully and beautifully written and directed by Judy Seal, explores the need for the refugees in a transit camp to achieve some form of normality.
They do this by telling stories to raise their spirits and forget the traumas they have experienced.
We are welcomed by the cast as we arrive, a really nice touch, as are the Russian brother and sister who need a safe place to stay following their travels as they seek asylum.
These youngsters are captivating with high-energy confident performances superb ensemble work and strong use of physical theatre.
The stage is littered with detritus, large sails as tents and floating rucksacks; this is a transient world.
So the stories begin. We have the tale of the tortoise and the hare brilliantly portrayed and the little child that’s ignored by her stepdad and his wife reminiscent of the old woman who lived in a shoe.
Little Lucy loses her voice in a lovely scene with the voice represented by small lights—superbly inventive.
Then there is the naughty shepherd boy who looks after the sheep, which are joyously played chewing the grass as we learn about the boy who cried wolf.
But this is a cool singing dude of a wolf wearing sunglasses and biding his time to make his attack on the sheep.
There are many touching moments, beautifully realised characters and playful fun that is a joy to watch.
It’s told with flair, commitment and much humour and the youngsters have charisma that shines through, especially at ten o’clock in the morning.
The heart-rending ending brings a tear to the eye. The cast thoroughly deserved the long and enthusiastic applause from the audience. Don’t miss this one—it’s superb.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp
Our Greater Expectations!
A chance meeting with an old friend led to dinner with new friends which led to an idea about an exchange between our students in the UK and Barcelona. After several bottles of wine not all plans come together but there are moments in life when an opportunity presents itself that should not be turned down; a core challenge for those who love rich learning is to disrupt the contemporary machinery of schooling by finding ways for students to encounter the unforeseen. This collaboration was one of those moments.
So we did it. I adapted Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations for the Dolphin company and then wrote lines for a Greek Chorus, which the Lazzigag actors performed. Our Dolphins learnt lines in English and Spanish, and the Lazzigag actors’ lines were in Catalan; hey presto, we had a tri-lingual production and an international theatre company! The show was re-named Greater Expectations, probably because I was always slightly surprised that we were pulling this grand feat off. We rehearsed independently in Barcelona and Hurst, had one rehearsal together and then went on tour. Talk about living on the edge…
Living nearly 1000 miles apart made the experience challenging and very, very scary! But fear is wonderful because it sparks your imagination and suddenly our worlds are transformed and filled with possibility. Rehearsing with these young Dolphin students was exactly that; our actors of 11 and 12 had big, bright ideas which were risky and exciting. And an engaged imagination develops young people’s empathy, leadership, creativity and critical thinking. Imagination breeds grit; young people stay invested in the rehearsal process, the performance outcomes, and, later in life, their own life outcomes.
Theatre can fundamentally change who you are and how you view the world so the stakes are really high. Touring in another country, collaborating with actors you have never met before and performing at an International theatre festival raises these stakes substantially. But it is more important than ever since Brexit that young people in the UK do interact with our European friends, and what better way to do that than through theatre. We are living in a world in transit and projects like ours can uproot budding prejudices and deepen students’ knowledge of how the world works, and we can begin to foster the notion of the global citizen.
In addition to putting on a show, our young global citizens learnt how to make an
authentic Valencian paella, built human towers, explored the Gothic Quarter, learnt new words in Spanish (like brandy!), toured Barcelona’s football ground, Camp Nou, but above all they made new European friends.
I am incredibly lucky and deeply grateful to have the privilege of working with young people who want to follow me through tunnels of inventiveness, chaos making and, at times, despair, and emerge the other side with something to show for it that is collective and beautiful. Our Greater Expectations! was exactly that.
Polar Opposites: melting the Divide - the story…
Polar Opposites: melting the Divide began with a single idea of a polar bear cub being separated from his mother and an urgency to do something positive about the climate crisis. And that was it.
Day one in the rehearsal room there was no script and no lines and a lot of perplexed faces! Working with Dolphin students has taught me a number of things over the decades but possibly the most important thing is that they are always up for a challenge. Hang upside down from a kite eating tree for a very long time, Charlie Brown; spend two hours rehearsing with a company of Catalan children you have never met before then perform at the prestigious Igualada Theatre Festival in Spanish and English; improvise an entire scene during a performance because a key character in Moliere’s The Hypochondriac is throwing up in the toilet.
So no script didn’t concern them for too long!
Rolls of wallpaper were scribbled on, heated discussions took place and hours of ideas were explored through improvisations. Despite it being rather painful during some rehearsals, eventually something rather wondrous and magical emerged - our beautiful, funny and thought provoking show.
And this year we took our show on tour into the local community for a week and performed in 5 different venues. Having performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and toured in Barcelona it felt important to stay local and build relationships with neighbouring schools. So we did.
Challenges faced us wherever we turned - a stage was so tiny we were in danger of falling off, the dinner ladies were very vocal at one school just before we began the show, and one iceberg from our beautiful fragile set broke at Manor Green School. But the company met every challenge with determination and imagination - we performed on and in front of the tiny stage, we invited the dinner ladies to watch our show and Oscar mended the iceberg with tape and blutac.
All our school audiences from St Nicholas’, Hurst, Colleton, Twyford, Crazies Hill in Crazies Hill and Manor Green, Maidenhead were so receptive and enthusiastic about the piece. Perhaps my personal favourite highlight was at the end of one of the performances at Manor Green when a student called out very spontaneously, That was great, and this was then echoed several times throughout the school hall. One of their teachers e mailed me the following day to tell me how their school corridors were still echoing with excited conversations about our show.
Halfway through the tour Jamie, Oscar, Evie and I were interviewed on Radio Berkshire by Phil Kennedy and we all very much enjoyed visiting their brand new building.
It has been difficult to keep our feet on the ground and our heads from floating away - well, mine anyway! Although a tiny show it has found a special place in my heart and will stay with me long after the final bows. As we warmed up before our final show at the wonderful South Street Theatre, I reminded the Company to take a deep breath after the performance had finished and just before the lights came back up for the bow. I encouraged them to take it in, acknowledge who they were standing alongside and to remember that moment. I know I will, even though I wasn’t on that stage.
Thoughts About Drama
The true purpose of Arts education is to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, who have curious minds and who can lead productive lives.
Kelly Pollock - Executive director of COCA community Arts Centre, St Louis
Why teach Drama in school?
Good question…especially now when Drama is fighting for its life in so many schools.
Although the UK is a world leader in theatre, and the creative industries are the fastest growing in the world, the British Government baffles me. In June 2017 they introduced new national exams - the Ebacs, which included the following subjects: English Language and Literature, Maths, the three Sciences, Geography, History and a foreign language. Aren’t we missing something?
What about the Arts?
It is possible to continue studying Art, Music, Drama and in even fewer schools, Dance, but my worry is that these new exams send out a message from the government - some subjects are more important than others. A BBC survey carried out in January 2018, in which 1200 schools responded - over 40% of UK secondary schools, stated that nine out of every ten schools reported that they had cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative arts subject. Very worrying.
Our schools need to offer a curriculum which is broad, balanced, creative and future proof. An Arts based education is key in this turbulent world in which we live - for developing empathy, resilience, and an ability to adapt. Drama can fundamentally change who we are and how we view things and it can offer a safe environment to take risks and explore a wide range of emotions and scenarios.
I am a teacher and proud to be a Gatekeeper to the Arts. Guillaume Apollinaire’s short poem sums up what many Drama teachers do every day…
‘Come to the edge,’ he said.
‘We can’t, we’re afraid!’ they responded.
‘Come to the edge,’ he said.
‘We can’t, we will fall!’ they responded.
‘Come to the edge,’ he said.
And so they came
And he pushed them
And they flew.
Judy Seall - Head of Dolphin Drama
Even more importantly, what do our students think about Drama?
Drama makes me feel very, very giddy - Matthew, Year 4
I love Drama - you make more friends - Ava, Year 6
I love Drama because whenever I am feeling dull or something bad has happened Drama always brightens my day - Ayra, Year 6
I like Drama because I get to express my feelings in a way I won’t be judged - Diana, Year 7
And how did Dolphin Drama shape you? Several alumni speak up…
Charlotte Lee, Head of Legal for Technology
"Without the unrelenting dedication held by my Drama and English teacher I would not have had the confidence to pursue a career in law. It is important to remember that it is the early years which really shape you as a person. As Head of legal for technology for a major commercial advertising conglomerate I have been fortunate to speak at ‘women in technology’ and legal Spheres as well as mentor junior counsel. It would be a delight to mentor more Dolphin alumni. Unless you’ve experienced a Dolphin education it’s hard to explain- other than a desire for learning more and questioning what we are told - that sets us apart from the rest. I’ll never forget my time at Dolphin and if I ever have the opportunity to have children they will be sent to the schools’s Loving and accepting arms. There is no better place to be."
Matt Allwright - BBC journalist, filming an episode of Rogue Traders
"My first experience of facing an audience was at Dolphin. It wasn’t regarded as anything special or extreme. Everyone was doing it, and I didn’t really realise how special that was until I got to my next school. I think that it has shaped the attitude that I’ve carried with me through my professional life. Everyone has a part to play, something to say and the right to do so. When it’s your moment, take your turn, step up and be yourself."
Matt Romain performing as Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London
"I have nothing but fond memories of the Dolphin School. It fostered in me a love of music, art, and in particular drama that continue to shape me today. Without the Dolphin I simply wouldn’t be doing what I am doing."
Anne-Marie Piazza performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company
"Dolphin provided me with a truly fulfilling and creatively inspiring education. I loved the drama department, it taught me the value of story telling and human connection. To the horror of my parents I decided at a young age that I'd become an actor and it was the support I got both during my time here and during the many many years that followed that made me the professional actor I am today. Without a shadow of a doubt, I owe my career to my time at Dolphin."
Jamie Lennox - Creative Director, Hotwolf
Doing Drama at Dolphin School gave me the confidence in creativity and passion for producing which has absolutely led me down the career path I have followed ever since.
I have lifelong memories of many of the shows and Drama classes in my time at Dolphin. From my first role as a RayBan-wearing Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh (1985 or 6?), where I was encouraged by Judy Seall to spend lunchtimes "in character" practising my walk in a heavy biker's jacket around the playground, I learned to not only love performance and the whole process of creating a production, but to challenge expectations and always create from a unique and surprising point of view. How many other James Dean-flavoured Eeyores have you seen?
Embracing all aspects of drama - finding joy not just in performance but creative writing and character workshops, set design, lighting and music (I even made the programmes, I think?) - gave me a wide-ranging skill set which I've carried with me ever since.
Basically, a Seall and a donkey gave me the bug at Dolphin and I've been in the creative arts ever since - as an actor, writer, producer and director - all the way through my current role as owner and Creative Director of my own creative agency (Hotwolf), bringing a unique twist to everything I create for my clients.
Alex Edmans - Professor of Finance, London Business School
I’m hugely thankful to have been involved in drama at Dolphin. It built my confidence and helped me explore my creative side. I was initially shy at Dolphin but now my job involves a lot of public speaking which drama gave me the courage to do. Drama teaches the importance of being part of a team and appreciating others’ talents – not everyone can have the lead role, but you’re part of something greater than yourself. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s fun!