Last night (27 November), winners of What You Will, a competition hosted by the charity Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation (CSSF) inviting children and young people to create new speeches for Shakespeare characters, were announced at a gala event at London’s Criterion Theatre.
Annabelle, winner of the 12-16 category, collecting her award. Credit: David Monteith-Hodge
A Ukrainian pupil who arrived in the country as a refugee last year, a young person who created a speech incorporating British Sign Language that was praised by the judges as one of the most ‘ready for theatre’ pieces they had read, and a special education school that created character profiles for guests at the ball in Romeo and Juliet, were among the winners.
The young finalists performed their new speeches on stage at The Criterion, alongside performances from a host of stars including Alfred Enoch (Harry Potter), Ben Willbond (Ghosts), John Heffernan (The Crown), Eshaan Akbar (Sex Education) and Eliza Butterworth (The Last Kingdom).
Hundreds of children and young people from across the country took part in What You Will. The competition, sponsored by Cambridge University Press, is the only project celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio that is led by young people, reimagining Shakespeare for a contemporary youth audience.*
Four winners were announced across different age categories (8-11 years, 12-16 years, 17-21 years and 22-25 years) and there were two additional awards – one for children/young people with English as an additional language (EAL) and one for children/young people with special educational needs (SEND).
The winners were:
- 8-11 years category: Toby, aged ten from Watford. Toby wrote and performed a piece about Mamillius from The Winter’s Tale. Toby wanted to play with the form and structure, breaking with Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter: “I thought it was important to show that at this moment Mamillius doesn’t care for the etiquette of court.” The judges were impressed by the sophistication of the writing and that it filled a genuine gap in Shakespeare’s work by giving an authentic voice to an underserved character.
- 12-16 years category: Annabelle, aged 16, from Hertfordshire. Annabelle wanted to examine the comic relief provided by the Porter in Macbeth – and rail against it! The judges all loved Annabelle’s work, praising both the writing – which was noted as being very Shakespearean in its tones of light and dark, and the performance which brought both great laughter and emotional impact. The piece was also praised for its structure and character arc.
- 17-21 years category: Corb, a 17-year-old student from Cardiff. Corb was inspired by the character Innogen from Much Ado About Nothing who, in the Folio stage directions, is brought on but never taken off. Corb says: “A character who comes on stage does “nothing” and doesn’t leave is so unique and bizarre I had to choose her. I thought a comic would be a playful way of sharing what was going on inside her head.” Corb’s comic was described by the judges as: “A hilarious, quirky, pleasure.”
- 22-25 years category: Aoife, aged 22 from Dorset. Aoife chose to give a voice to Lavinia from Titus Andronicus, one of the most tortured characters from Shakespeare’s grisliest play. Aoife says “Lavinia is often thought of as the symbol of a failing political system and the innate dangers of womanhood, however, it’s Lavinia’s strength that inspires me. Aoife’s entry was an impressive combination of speech, projected text and British Sign Language, and for the judges it represented one of the most ‘ready for theatre’ pieces they had read.
- EAL special award: Kira, aged 15, a Ukrainian pupil from Hampshire who arrived in the country as a refugee last year. Kira wrote a diary entry for Juliet in her native Ukrainian and then translated it into English and the judges agreed that was a remarkably skilled piece of writing. For Kira, Juliet combines “strength, stubbornness, and contrasting vulnerability with her love for Romeo.”
- SEND special award: Pupils at Bensham Manor, a special education school in Croydon. The class at Bensham Manor created character profiles for the guests at the ball in Romeo and Juliet, incorporating collage, masks, character quotes, speeches and an original song. Michelle Ejueyitchie, Drama Lead at Bensham Manor, said: “Due to the inclusive nature of the competition, students of various abilities and levels were invited to explore and re-imagine a Shakespearean character, through their lens. They were able to explore, in a wide creative landscape, which they thoroughly enjoyed. It has given our students a voice and confidence, where they may have felt overlooked and not considered.”
Kira, winner of the EAL special award. Credit: David Monteith-Hodge
Mike Tucker, Head of CSSF, said: “We believe that Shakespeare is for everyone, and we’ve had entries to the What You Will competition from all types of schools from all over the UK. We’ve been overwhelmed by the quality and the playfulness of the entries, some of which have been submitted in written form, in videos incorporating music, dance, British Sign Language and even pieces of art. When children and young people get to bring their own voice to Shakespeare, something truly special happens. Congratulations to all our finalists and winners – it was a joy to see them perform their remarkable entries on stage and to celebrate their achievements.”
Actor Alfred Enoch, who took part in the judging, said: “Most children encounter Shakespeare in an academic context as something they have to study to pass an exam, not something they get to play with or approach in a way that’s fun. One of the most beautiful things about this competition has been to see the freedom with which young people have engaged with Shakespeare and how they’ve used his work to make something new, something of their own. I was in awe of some of the entries, they were fantastic. CSSF is a charity I’m very proud to support.”
Matthew Walker, Publishing Director at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, said: “Creativity comes in many forms and should be accessible to all. It is our mission at Cambridge to facilitate this by contributing to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research. Partnering with CSSF on this competition helps us achieve this by encouraging young people across the UK to bring Shakespeare’s work to life in new ways. We’re inspired by the high levels of talent and innovation that young people have brought to the competition, while celebrating Shakespeare’s stories on this important anniversary.”
Actors Alfred Enoch and Eliza Butterworth perform on stage. Credit: David Monteith-Hodge