Excluded – Theatre Review

INTERMISSION Youth Theatre artistic director Darren Raymond deserves a medal for the work he does in getting kids – often troubled teenagers – to embrace the arts.

His latest project, Excluded, is a marvellously inclusive piece of theatre. Built around some of the key characters in William Shakespeare’s plays, it looks at the unintended consequences of kids being excluded from school – 42 a day in this country, 8 out of 10 coming from vulnerable backgrounds, many of whom are left to drift into crime and enter the prison system. Scarred for life.

It’s a mish mash of Shakespeare that at its core pits Caesar against Brutus, but bands together the likes of Shylock, Macbeth, Shylock and Romeo as the ‘excluded’. Characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing,  Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice are all thrown into the mix. For the most part, it takes place in a school room where pupil exclusions are part and parcel of everyday school life.

Ambitious? Yes, but Raymond – an accomplished actor himself and a lover of Shakespeare – has pulled it off in quite spectacular fashion. It works a treat, helped in dollops by a young, exhilarating cast who enjoy every single minute of being in the limelight. Some, no doubt, will be theatrical stars of the future.

Excluded has been 10 months in the making with the end product being a four day (Wednesday to Saturday), four week run at St Saviours, current (but not for long) home to Intermission Youth Theatre. The play actually starts in the church’s foyer with a little bit of verbal jousting between Caesar (Alexander ‘X’ Lobo Moreno) and Hamlet (Oliver Knight) and an introduction from Intermission director Sue Radford.

At the ringing of a bell, it then moves upstairs to the compact chapel, with the audience crowding in on the stage from all sides. Members of the cast sit amongst the audience which on the 16 November caused confusion as a couple of theatre goers insisted that individual cast members should not sit in the plastic seats Radford had said the audience should avoid (Sian-Leigh Moore, quite remarkably, remained in character as she sat in her corner seat while being told to move elsewhere).

The play starts as class members are preparing to face their GCSE exams. Overseeing them is Miss Portia (a superlative Rebecca Soper), a resilient and kind teacher who implores them not to throw their young lives away. Over the next 80 minutes, we then begin to get an insight into the lives of the children under her wing.

Most are troubled or bring their troubles to school – the likes of Isabel (Sharai-Raven Mae) whose brother is in prison and who wants her to agree to despicable deeds in order to get him sufficient money to apply for bail; a deeply troubled Hamlet and a Brutus (Elijah Blunt) scarred by family discord. Factions emerge, pupils are excluded, murders are committed, teachers are replaced and battles are fought. Of course, it all ends in bloody tragedy. Along the way, there are digs at the futility of much schooling – 90 per cent of education is a waste of time, proclaims Beatrice at one stage.

The cast overall is some 30-strong although some only perform twice a week (presumably for age reasons). Others change roles, so Crerar Antony becomes a wonderfully chippy and bitchy Beatrice two nights a week, then plays the joker in the pack (Bottom) for the two other nights.

Although the cast is universally strong, there were some stand out performances on 16 November – Ricardo P Lloyd as a flirtatious Romeo (handsome even when forced to wear an eye patch);  Knight as a magnificent Hamlet (flipping between melancholy and anger at the loss of his father and the fact that his mother is now sleeping with his uncle); a cheeky Stevanie Matthews as Lady Macbeth; and Moreno’s Caesar (a peacock amongst his school colleagues). And of course Soper’s Miss Portia and Antony’s Beatrice.

Excluded is a delight. A work of love by a director who has been through the dark days – Raymond spent time in prison where his love of Shakespeare blossomed – and acted with panache by a group of actors, most of whom have experienced schooling issues at one time or another. At the end of each show, the audience are invited to ask the cast questions – an inclusive touch.

Intermission Youth Theatre is currently looking for a new home. With formidable patrons in Sir Mark Rylance and Naomi Harris, its sterling work deserves to carry on. We need this theatre.

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Title Photo: Richard Jinman

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