National Writing Challenge winners see entries brought to life

Date Posted: 13/06/2013

The winners of the National Writing Challenge

Pictured: The winners of the National Writing Challenge with cast member Melanie La Barrie. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).

Rachel Bailey took a trip to London to enjoy a special performance from the cast of Matilda the Musical to celebrate the launch of the RSC’s new free online resource for schools, Write Here Write Now with Matilda.

This month I had the privilege of attending a one-off Royal Shakespeare Company event at the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden. I sat amongst students from eight schools across the country who were about to watch scripts and songs that they themselves had composed, which were to be performed by the West End cast of Matilda the Musical.

To celebrate the launch of Write Here Write Now with Matilda, the RSC set a National Writing Challenge inviting students aged between eight and 13 to create an original script or song to be performed live. Over 200 entries from schools across the UK were received and put through a full script selection process by the RSC’s Literary and Education Departments, before the show’s creators Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin read the winning eight entries.

The selected scenes and songs were fully rehearsed by members of the Matilda company before being performed on stage in front of the students and their classmates.

Impressive ideas from students as young as eight

I must admit, I was really impressed by the standard of work submitted, and by the sheer imagination and ideas that were evident through the performances. Some scripts were funny; for example, Mr Toreador by Caitlin Ellis and Amber Cox (aged 13) had the audience screaming with laughter. Others, including Run Sally Run by Ella Cookson (aged nine) were quite poignant. The youngest winner, Isabella Thomas who wrote Flipping Felicity, was only eight years old, and it was refreshing to see original creations from students as young as that.

Isabella Thomas

Pictured: Isabella Thomas from St Mary's C of E Primary School, Cheltenham with Melanie La Barrie. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).

Isabella’s mother, Annie Connelly said: “It was magical watching the musicality and the writing and the imagination all pull together to create this wonderful piece, and to then watch it come to life on stage. It’s lovely that the RSC has provided this platform – it’s really succeeded in what it set out to do. Roald Dahl and this show really fire the imagination -people don’t realise how capable children really are.”

The RSC offers a springboard for creativity

The event itself had a lovely atmosphere; introduced by RSC product producer Fiona Ingram and hosted by Luke Sheppard, the associate director, the two-hour performance was all about the students, their ideas, and their consequent success in making it to the final winning eight entries. Melanie La Barrie (who plays the character of Mrs Phelps) awarded the students with their medals and certificates. She said: “I think it’s very important that children have a chance to show their own sparks, talent and creativity. They have brought their talents to us, we’ve enjoyed performing it, and the children have in turn enjoyed watching us.”

I also spoke to cast member Tommy Sherlock after the show about the success of the RSC competition. He said: “They’ve never done anything like this before, and to get kids involved in theatre from a young age is a great jump-start. In school you usually only have access to the drama department. This is external; it’s great for kids to go out and see their work performed on stage by actors; there are not many opportunities around the country, or many other shows that offer this type of thing.”

The eight schools whose work was performed on stage are Appleton Academy, Bradford; Bitterne Park School, Southampton; Pates Grammar School, Cheltenham; Richmond Park Academy, East Sheen, London; Scorton C of E Primary School, Preston, Lancashire; St Mary’s C of E (aided) Primary School, Horsham, West Sussex; St Paul with St Luke C of E Primary School, Tower Hamlets, London and Treorchy Comprehensive School, Treorchy, Mid Glamorgan.

Hiro Jones and Melissa Newlove
Pictured: Hiro Jones and Melissa Newlove from Bitterne Park School, Southampton with Melanie La Barrie. (Photo credit: Manuel Harlan).

Get your school involved!

Inspired by the themes of Matilda the Musical, the RSC Education Department has created Write Here Write Now with Matilda to give schools insight into the creative process of staging the musical.

The interactive website aims to inspire children to become creative writers, imaginative playwrights and avid readers. Through filmed interviews with the show’s writer Dennis Kelly and music and lyricist Tim Minchin, together with comprehensive teacher notes for use in the classroom, the website helps to make storytelling vivid, accessible and enjoyable for children and their teachers.

Additionally, Write Here Write Now with Matilda also offers Teacher Professional Development days, providing teachers with practical approaches to creative writing using Matilda the Musical as a springboard.

Teachers can go online now to begin their own Matilda experience.

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