Education: Now the hungry lion roars, Grrrrr]

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The Independent Online
A Midsummer-Night's Dream for a class of six- and seven-year-olds is in progress (above), at Rotherfield Infants School in Islington, north London.

'When you press a button, steam comes out,' says a small bellows-mender.

'Does it hurt?'

'When you touch the button, does it go red?'

The bellows-menders' announcement that they are making a dragon is exciting interest among the rest of the class, even more than the joiners' sponge wedding cake with candles.

Perhaps you had forgotten there was a dragon in A Midsummer-Night's Dream? Or a sponge cake?

The class has been split into weavers, carpenters, tailors, bellows-menders and joiners by Sarah Gordon, who is running a Shakespeare workshop: she has asked the children to make presents for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. The children come up with ideas: the cake and the dragon, which she thinks is one of the best ideas she has encountered, ranking alongside a jacuzzi that children at another school once suggested.

What] jealous Oberon

Give me that boy

Not for thy fairy kingdom

Now the hungry lion roars

and the wolf behowls the moon

Now it is the time of night

that the graves all gaping wide . . .

Ms Gordon's Shakespeare workshops rely on the children knowing absolutely nothing about the play beforehand. 'I ask the teacher not to tell them anything at all, not even the title,' she says.

Whereas A Midsummer-Night's Dream can take off in various directions to follow any one of the numerous subplots, with Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet she sticks more closely to the characters and plot. That morning Ms Gordon had received letters from some of the children at Rotherfield Junior School who encountered Macbeth the week before.

'Thank you for teaching us it was good it was very funny and I was the king and Darien killed me,' wrote Spencer.

Danielle said: 'Dear Sarah I injode it very much I injode being Lady Macbeth. I hope you can come again.'

The Rotherfield children, Ms Gordon admits, are quite a handful. At first things go well: after some discussion of what might be lurking in the magical forest - lions, crocodiles, owls, an octopus and a tarantula are all suggested - the class starts adding spirited sound effects to the reconstituted play.

'Now the hungry lion roars' Grrrrrr] 'And the wolf behowls the moon' Yeeooow] 'Now it is the time of night' Woooo] 'that the graves all gaping wide' Screek]

But soon the noise level rises to the point where it begins to sound like an improvisation of the battle of Agincourt. Order is swiftly restored by Patricia Dale, the class teacher.

Discord banished, along with one or two miscreants, the class divides into Titanias and Oberons, quarrelling over their boy.

'Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,' sneers one group with great contempt, to be answered by a derisive 'What] jealous Oberon.'

'Give me that boy]'

'Not for thy fairy kingdom,' retort the Titanias with relish. Everyone is enjoying themselves and things are going like a dream again, well enough to sustain interest through the tale of enchantment.

As the session ends, Ms Gordon tells them the name of the story and asks if anyone knows who wrote it. 'No, it wasn't written by me, I'm afraid. It was written by a very famous man.' A hand shoots up. 'Michael Jackson]'

(Photograph omitted)