Dramatising ideas

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting by the fireplace at 50 Church Road trying to explain to our Chinese guests – 13 students and two teachers from Chuansha School in Shanghai – the peculiarities of the English tradition of Afternoon Tea.  This is relatively straightforward, however, compared to my hamfisted attempts to describe the ups and downs of Admiral Nelson’s popularity before he secured it by dying at Trafalgar.  It’s a bit of a truism to say that things are as interesting as they are complicated once you start to delve into them, but there is nothing quite like trying to describe something central to your culture to people from a very different one and in comprehensible language to make you realise the limitations of language.

So, still wishing that I hadn’t got so embroiled in different pronunciations of “scone” or mentioned Lady Hamilton, I find myself later standing by the lake (on the Theatre side) watching the first of the five short devised shows that are part of the 6.2 Theatre Studies practical exam.  As this first piece involves two girls emerging from the lake, the cast have been hoping for the good weather to continue; alas, it’s chilly – well, alas from a comfort/ Health and Safety point of view, but a dankish twilight beefs up the Gothic in my view – breath is steamy and the piece’s conclusion (too grisly to recount) is helped by what the Scots call the dreich ambiance.

Now the audience is back in the Theatre: the relative warmth is reassuring, but the next four pieces will be in the best tradition of Bedales student-devised work: inventive, thought-provoking, rich in ideas, sometimes visceral and usually bold in execution.  Language plays its part, but is subsidiary to physical theatre.

The strongest thread running through these arresting pieces is of the complexity and pitfalls of human relationships, with the #MeToo movement and the objectification of women at its core.  Having grown accustomed to a school environment where students can use devised theatre to explore their feelings so fully, it is difficult to imagine a school where such intelligent, demanding and exploratory work does not happen.

Technicolor worlds, bravely lit

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Wednesday was one of the highly flavoured days when I have a series of technicolor moments that animate life, even in November’s neutral tones, and make me feel very lucky to be doing the job I am.

Bedales Notices first thing not only includes adverts for the forthcoming Hunger Banquet, production of Medea and visit to Florence (please wear a coat too), but a Movember message from moustachioed men: the message from Boys’ Flat housemaster duo Chris Bott and Peter Thackrey is about men’s health – let’s talk about it, blokes – but it’s done with humour and humanity.

Over to Dunhurst now for my weekly lesson with Block 1 English and another short poem for us to explore. After reading short gems like Larkin’s Cut Grass and local lad Thomas’s Adlestrop, this week we are talking about Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole. 

The Block 1’s initial insights are impressive and I think of an adage a recent interviewee slipped in (“Children can smell qualilty..”) as I move along the corridor to the packed hall where Dunannie’s production of The Tempest is about to begin.

The children have been engaged in the story both through their teachers and through a visiting story teller. It’s clear from the first moment that the Dunannie children have truly inhabited the story. The adaptation, wonderfully constructed by teachers Camilla Bell and Catherine Claasen, with music by Ben Harlan and Mea Wade, comprises twelve scenes that light the imagination.

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Anchored especially in my mind’s album are moments such as the Boatswains’ song with its great rhymes, the evil Duke’s wicked single black glove, Caliban’s green gloves and the meeting between Miranda (with her classy umbrella) and the marooned Prince Ferdinand.

There’s something magical about The Tempest, which is a dramatisation of a kind of fairy tale, being brought to life by such a young audience, with parents and grandparents looking on as this tale of greed and envy being redeemed by forgiveness and the hope of youth is played out.

Bravo, Dunannie!

Poetic justice on the football pitch

Hurrah, the sun!  Finally, after 17 days of the summer term, we have a sunny day – not in time to rescue the taking of the school photos (one serious and one not so, due to happen on Thursday), but in time to shine on the opening of the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival, which head of drama, Jay Green, is starting this July in the new outdoor theatre (constructed by 6.2s in the Badley Celebration Weekend close to the Sotherington Barn). Spooks actor Rupert Penry Jones cuts the willow thread and says a few well chosen words in what we will now call the Sotherington Theatre. 

Then the sun shines on one of the most hard-fought sporting occasions of the year, the annual 6.1 vs 6.2 boys’ football match. The build up has been tense; a promotional film has been produced by the 6.2s; natty (pink) strips with compelling, witty legends on them have been ordered; cheerleaders commissioned; managers appointed; members of staff lobbied to support one side or the other. It’s an unusually (for us) black and white occasion: if you’re not for us you’re against us. Although I accidentally wear a pink shirt, I remain (of course) unpartisan, although, rather as with a tussle between an elder and younger brother, there is something liable to lead to less grumpiness when the senior side wins – which happens with, as they point out serially, poetic justice, 6 – 2.  Most importantly, aside of some genial pitch invasions and mobbing of goal scorers, it passes off without unexpected or untoward incident and is conducted in a fierce but sportsmanlike spirit.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Cymbelines and cinema

The weekend is dominated by several Cymbelines and plenty of Cinema: English teacher Diana Walsgrove’s production at Havant is seen by a number of students on Friday and Saturday, some of whom are at the Shakespeare Society’s reading of the play at my house on Sunday. Sunday evening and anyone who’s anyone is in the Lupton Hall at the Bedales Film Festival 2012 where at least 15 films are watched by an appreciative audience and panel of judges including me. Some have been carefully put together over months; some, more Blair Witch Project than high budget, have resulted from the determined and frantic efforts of a wet Sunday afternoon. The range is therefore wide but the standard is impressive and shows a significant tick up from last year. Toby G’s remarkable account of the time he and his two OB brothers spent in the wilds of the Yukon is the  winner. Tarquin R’s sensitive account of an old man’s fading musical powers and the spoof silent melodrama involving Celeste M, Georgie D and Rufus R are also deservedly in the top 3. Entirely student-led, colourfully and cleverly masterminded by Fred A and, now in its 3rd year, the Film Festival is one of many beacons to student initiative and creativity.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Bedales set for Spring

Much PSHE in the Budge household – not just the fecund hens – but our black girl puppy Zazu reaches womanhood: now the horizon is scanned each walk for roving men dogs. Those previously innocent frisky play fights with other Bedales dog neighbours – Otto Coates, for example – pose a threat. Happily, at least as of this morning, Otto remains in the age of innocence and the puppyish frisking continues. With the new lime trees planted at the front of the school and the apple trees in the Orchard, we are set for Spring proper. Additional backdrop for me is All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis’  poignant account of Edward Thomas’ relationships – with Steep, Frost (poet) and war – quite an insight on all counts, but very unfrisky.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Sinister porcine honking from Bedales Assessed Course

Intriguing to see the way in which our BAC Theatre Arts students have developed their ideas and, most often courageously and skilfully, dramatised them in their devised and scripted pieces. I see them on their first night, within the intimate setting of the Drama Studio (the original music school), prior to the examined performances on the second night. As with the English Literature BAC, the amount of material covered and the expectations on the students mean that the nature of the educational journey is richer and more demanding than GCSE. The final pieces are impressive. We have a scripted piece telling the story of Animal Farm, with the aid of distinguishing hats, plenty of increasingly sinister porcine honking, a chorus of sheep and some suitably stirring propaganda. Then there is a splendid contrast with two devised short dream pieces based on the unlikely and fabulous combination of the Shipping Forecast and Heligoland. Two groups then join together for the concluding pieces which are devised pieces based on the Canterville Ghost – scary! But not quite as scary as those propagandising pigs. Here at 50 Church Road Farm, the cut-price, former Waitrose hens are laying with Boxer like industry.

by Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Emotion recollected in tranquility

It’s a curious but important thing to do – attending a poetry reading – but it’s something you should do, ideally before you leave school, and keep doing. People are often surprised and delighted by what they find; so it was on Tuesday evening when Douglas Dunn, lured down from St Andrews, read in our theatre. The additional privilege, for me, some fellow teachers and the Poetry Society students, was to meet him and have supper with him beforehand. 

Whether it is Andrew Motion, Robert Robertson, Don Paterson, Kate Bingham or Paul Farley (all visitors over recent years), the experience of sitting quietly and listening to poets reading their poetry reminds us of the need to be open to “emotion recollected in tranquility” or, as Paul Scott put it, “the single emotional spear-point” that poetry provides.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.