A couple of years ago there was a BBC reality show about some children in a public speaking competition. It was good. This time round, rather than a public speaking competition, it’s a ‘Shakespeare’ competition. A one-off programme looking into the finals of this new BBC competition for 13-15 year olds who have to perform a Shakespeare speech ‘off by heart’. But it’s not just about reciting the lines, it’s also about performance and acting.
So nine children from very different walks of life were selected for the finals to appear at the RSC in Stratford. Five would perform speeches from Romeo and Juliet, and the last four from Henry V. The best three would be asked to perform Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not to Be’ soliloquy to determine the winner. And the winner gets….. a plastic star trophy.
Narrated by Miranda Richardson, the finals were presented by Jeremy Paxman, and the judges were Simon Schama, Imogen Stubbs and Samuel West. West proved himself to be a Shakespeare geek, who thinks reciting his words keep you company at the bus stop. Like he ever goes on the bus! Schama is apparently not just any-old historian, but a Shakespeare expert.
The show interspersed clips from the finals, with the judging panel’s comments, with some of the training the children had undergone for the final with the RSC company, with interviews with their parents/teachers. And all the children were really good. Of course they must have been to be chosen to be the final 9. Femi from a Nigerian family in South London who wants to be famous, Emily from the West Country who gets terribly nervous and had to start again during her final performance, Ben from Lincolnshire who did a great ‘Master of the House’ from Les Mis in his VT and who recently lost his father, Nuha from West London and a Muslim Sri Lankan family whose father wasn’t too sure about acting as a profession, Amy from Northern Ireland who used her glasses as props, Jack a small thirteen-year old whose first language was Bulgarian, Jacinta from Wales who had to deliver the ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech, Neil from Scotland who has dyslexia, and James from the Leeds area who used to have a stammer.
The top three chosen by the Judges were Nuha, James and Amy. And if it hadn’t been already obvious from their first round performances, the stand out star was Nuha. She showed great intelligence and maturity in her performance and West and Schama went to her parents afterwards urging them to encourage her in an acting career. Cue Paxo at the end also berating the media for giving British teenagers a bad name (surely he is part of that problem) and praising the contestants, and the thousands who had applied, for showing that there are intelligent, well-meaning, inquisitive youngsters out there. Of course there are Paxo; I’m sure no-one ever said there weren’t.
Anyway, it was a really ‘nice’ programme. Uplifting at places. All very nice kids. Not the spoilt terrors you might have thought would enter a Shakespeare competition. Looks like there’s still a future for the RSC then, as if there was ever any doubt.