Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Strange Meeting

Strange Meeting


Well, it was pretty strange. On a drizzly grey Tuesday evening about 30 of us assembled in Newcastle’s Norman Keep for the A2 drama performance, devised and performed by the four candidates. Johnny Ball, Thomas Dickson, Alistair Henfrey and Alistair Wheater clearly took the title from Wilfred Owen’s famous War poem and, up to a point, the play was about war.

But what an original take on it! Four dead warriors meet in the strange, unknown place (hence the unusual setting of the Keep), a form of limbo in which they assess the manner of their death and the nature of sacrifice, and have the chance somehow to return to their previous lives. Thus Greek hero Achilles meets English Civil War coward Lucius Cary, a 14-year-old German soldier from the First World War and a young father killed in Afghanistan in our present.

The script was clever – erudite, even – and intriguing. The script showed just how strong a literary and historical background those young playwrights can draw on. The acting was powerful, technically very tight and professional. I heard some experts muttering about the influence of Berkoff on the structure of the play, but that went over my head.

Above all, perhaps, the piece gave the lie to suggestions emanating far too often from policymakers and the media that drama is somehow not as hard as other subjects. It is every bit as demanding, and RGS students need to know that (a) it’s certainly no soft option and (b) when it comes to applying to university, it’s as intellectually challenging and valid amongst A level choices as any other subject.

Although funding and other pressures are turning students away from the creative arts in the nation’s schools as a whole, we’re not seeing a significant problem here at the RGS. Nonetheless we do need to remember that the A levels that students choose partly as a route to top universities should not exclude the creative subjects. On the contrary, seeing those four Upper Sixth student actors on Tuesday just reminded me how lucky any university will be to take them, whatever subject they choose to read: and, so versatile are they, they probably could choose from a fair range!

That’s the thing about high-quality drama. At its best (as Strange Meeting was) drama is intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving, technically clever and (in this case, at any rate) of literary merit. But, like the best performance arts, it entertained while it challenged. 

That’s the point isn’t it?

Bernard Trafford
Headmaster