Parents gather to watch the school pupils performing in a Forest clearing surrounded by tall trees

Shakespeare in the Forest

27 October 2021
Heart of England Forest

On a beautifully sunny evening at the end of July, a year five and six school group from Mappleborough Green Primary School put on the first-ever performance in the Heart of England Forest. And what better setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Three young girls in fairy costumes poking their smiling faces out from behind tree trunks

Taking learning outside the classroom

After an unforgettable year of changing restrictions, the Forest provided a beautiful and COVID-friendly space to put on their end of year performance.

We always work with schools to make sure the outdoor lessons relate to and enhance the national curriculum, and the following multi-layered learning objectives were identified: 

  • To reintegrate the children into school after the pandemic lockdowns 
  • To enhance the children’s cultural capital – providing them with knowledge and experiences that enrich their lives and help them to become educated citizens 
  • To develop their skills and understanding associated with the artistic practice of drama – pupils should be able to adopt, create and sustain a range of roles, responding appropriately to others in role.
“I thought performing in the Forest was such a wonderful opportunity and it just made sense to stage Shakespeare so close to his birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon."
Alex Finch, Head Teacher
Head Teacher Alex Funch standing in front of the performing children and smiling at the audience of parents

Preparing for the performance 

The children and teachers wanted to combine the original play with a modern twist, and so learnt the bulk of the play in Shakespeare’s verse with the addition of some of their own modern narration and songs. 

For one of their sessions in the Forest, the school organised an acting workshop with local actor Lizzie Hopley. She worked with the children to improve their understanding of the plot, Shakespeare’s language, and the characters they would be playing. They also worked in groups to improve their confidence and acting ability.

Practice makes perfect

A young girl playing Titania wearing fairy wings and a flower crown clutching her hands to her heart.

The class faced and overcame a multitude of challenges, one of the biggest being practising in different environments. In addition to their weekly visits to the Forest, the children had to also rehearse at school whilst preparing for their final performances out in nature.

“We liked practising in the Forest because it helped us get used to what it would be like actually performing the play where we were going to be doing it."
Josh, Shakespeare and Lysander
Pupil Josh speaking into a microphone whilst performing

COVID-19 restrictions and self-isolation periods also posed a challenge to the class. In the weeks leading up to the performance two of their teachers had to self-isolate, and two of their leading actors were self-isolating during the performance. This meant the class really had to pull together to learn new parts and fill in the gaps. 

Opening night 

The children put on two separate performances to cater for the number of parents that wanted to come and watch them. They had to work together to project their voices and make sure they could be heard. “You have to fill the whole forest with your voice, so you really get to explode and be more free in your acting” said Anja, who played Titania. 

They also had to work with the Forest and the different terrains to create different atmospheres for their performance, splitting the play into two to perform half of it on the wide open ride at Middle Spernal and half under the tree canopy. This broke up the performance perfectly and created a different atmosphere for the different parts of the play.

A standing ovation 

The performances were a roaring success, and the children, teachers, parents, and Heart of England Forest staff were all brimming with pride at seeing everyone’s hard work coming together so seamlessly. 

“They’ve loved every minute of it!” said Michelle Jones, class teacher, “The best part for me has been seeing their confidence grow massively. I have these proud teacher moments that bring a tear to my eye, and this is one of them. This is something we do not get a chance to do very often, and it was really important that they had the chance to do it this year.” 

The school children in costume walking off into the sunset along a mowed path in long grass with the sun setting