Workshop brings the Bard to life: Rhys Williams goes to a west London school which did not take the tests

YEAR nine at Acton High School, west London, did Macbeth yesterday. Not as part of an English test, as John Patten would have liked, but in a workshop by the National Theatre.

To a classroom of 14-year-olds, Shakespearian iambic pentameter has all the appeal of an award winning cartoon from Poland. But not only did the 30 pupils grasp the principle within five minutes, they were speaking to each other after a further five in near perfect rhythm.

'Hello my name is Courtney, how are you?' Courtney Brown said as he tapped the floor in five bursts of two beats. 'Hello my name is Sam, how are you?' his neighbour stumbled. 'And how are you?' advised Courtney, already a past master.

Ann Johnstone, head of English at Acton High, explained: 'It brings Shakespeare to life . . . Many children have a real fear of Shakespeare. This makes it more accessible.'

The class proceeded to make sense of one of those speeches by the 'Second Lord', designed to keep the audience in touch with the action but which confuse them completely.

It was only left for David Shimwell, the workshop leader, to outline the plot of the entire play in two minutes. The workshop then divided into groups to create three key scenes: Macbeth's first visit to the witches when he is told he will become king; the banquet at which Banquo's ghost appears to Macbeth; and the gruesome demise of the Macduff family.

Each character introduced themselves. Joe Crossley, on the classroom floor in the prostrate form of the murdered Banquo, announced: 'I'm Banquo and I'd quite like to be alive.' Courtney, who played Banquo's assassin with alarming relish, chipped in: 'I'm the murderer and I want to do it again'. 'It's better than reading it in class,' he admitted afterwards. 'Now I understand the play.'

Jack Butcher, fresh from stabbing the Macduffs, added: 'It teaches you about the play, not just the words. It's interesting and if you're interested, you want to learn.'

The point, Mr Shimwell explained, was to demystify the Bard. 'I want to leave the kids with a feeling of success from Shakespeare. I want them to feel they have been able to take hold of it, abuse it if they want. After all, he's been dead 400 years.'

(Photograph omitted)