“Nuanced and detailed” take on Nick Payne’s ‘Constellations’

This week, Block 5 and 6.2 students took part in a four-night run of this year’s Autumn production, ‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne. Due to ongoing restrictions, two duplicate casts of eight performed alongside dancers in the Theatre, with two of the performances livestreamed for parents at home.

By Isobel de Gier, 6.1

Watching Block 5 and 6.2’s nuanced and detailed approach to Nick Payne’s Constellations – aided by Hayley Cole’s directorial work – was a joy. Between the many interpretations of protagonists Marianne and Roland, played by the electric Ella Peattie and captivating Nay Murphy, there were multiple humorous moments. The play then quickly juxtaposed those comical elements with tender and heart-breaking scenes of the characters’ future selves.

The play masterfully toyed with light and shade, enrapturing its audience. The experience was immersive and the audience laughed, cried and became enraged alongside the characters – with every smile, laugh, or frown of the many versions of Marianne and Roland, the audience was enveloped deeper. This is not only a testament to the subtle and refined acting style, but the beautiful LED lit set, the bewitching dancing by Lucy Albuquerque and Mathilda Douglas and masterful directing. If you did not see the many parallel universes of Marianne and Roland, you really did miss out. 

By Aria Taheri-Murphy, 6.1

On Tuesday, the second cast of Constellations performed an amazing representation of raw love, shown through the perspective of many versions of Marianne and Roland. The audience watched the variety of ways their love unfolded in the different scenarios, however as the play reached its conclusion all the main plotlines merged into one story.

Not only were the actors amazing, but the set was incredible, set on different levels with small light-up hexagons beneath each level. These related to the hexagon projections across the stage. Projections of drawings and maths equations were used throughout the performance and as the audience began to understand the characters the hexagons became very significant. 

The dancing added an exciting new element, this too was socially distanced, but this did not affect the quality of their work. Two A Level Dance students performed throughout the play, expressing the characters’ frustration, love, grief, and pain. The actors clearly showed these emotions, however there were times where the dance could truly show the raw feelings the characters were trying to hide. Overall, the acting, directing, staging and choreography was amazing and created a hard-hitting love story which didn’t need to be shown physically, much like the National Theatre socially distanced performance of Lungs.

A break from tradition for Autumn production

By Hayley Cole, Head of Drama

Our Autumn Production this year is Constellations by Nick Payne, which will be performed on four consecutive nights from 7-10 December, with two performances livestreamed for parents at home. A two hander about a couple, their relationship, quantum physics and most importantly love. It follows their journey and the multiple universe theory which means we see the various outcomes of each stage in their relationship. Not exactly your traditional Christmas production, but we never produce traditional productions here.

In previous years our Autumn Production has involved students from the whole school, across all year groups, with a cast and crew totalling more than 50. We have devised our own work, chosen cutting edge musical theatre, Greek tragedy, contemporary texts and adapted work to honour the First World War. But this year, obviously, things are different. The safety of our students and staff is paramount but at the same time we wanted to celebrate the fact we are open again as a school, a creative school, and able to perform again in the theatre. Whilst our numbers are restricted, both on stage and in the auditorium, and social distancing rules must be applied, I didn’t want it to restrict our innovative approach, nor the students’ theatrical experience.

Having watched Lungs at the Old Vic during lockdown, I was inspired by the chemistry Matt Smith and Clare Foy showed on stage and the fact that the chemistry existed despite the metre plus distance between them. This led me to look at similar plays and that’s where I landed at Constellations, a play I have loved for some time but not found the right platform for. However, I needed it to be more inclusive and to give more opportunities to more students. Focusing on the original intention of the play, our interpretation shows the possibilities that exist to anyone anywhere and scenes are explored with different genders and languages as well as sign language. We see the multiple outcomes of this relationship which could have affected any two people, anywhere in the world. Two duplicate casts of eight perform the scenes and transition with dancers who explore the themes of bee keeping, endless love, quantum physics, past, present and future. 

So, whilst the COVID Christmas term has been challenging, it has by no means hampered out creativity and we look forward to sharing our work; in person with the student and staff body and virtually (via live streaming) to parents, next week.   

Learning from History – from Hitler to pandemics

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

On Monday evening, historian Tim Bouverie came to Bedales for our second ‘real live’ Civics of the term. It was Tim’s first live gig since lockdown, and he was visibly pleased to be speaking to a real rather than virtual audience. It was a socially distanced audience, but a well- attended talk, and showed Bedales living with COVID, and not cancelling.

Tim’s 2019 book, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War was what he came to talk about, but the questions in the second part of the talk ranged far and wide. Was there any similarity between the democratic world’s approach to Germany in the 30s and democratic Europe’s current approach to China? To what extent does personality rather than political pragmatism drive the decision-making that elected leaders execute on our behalf? To what extent did public schoolboy rivalries drive geo-political decision making: Eden was an Old Etonian, Churchill an Old Harrovian, Chamberlain an Old Rugbeian (I made that last one up, but let’s look at the current Cabinet).

If Germany had ‘invaded’ Czechoslovakia in 1938 to annex the Sudetenland and then called a halt to its well established agenda of righting the perceived wrongs of the Treaty of Versailles, then Chamberlain would have been hailed as a hero, another world war averted, and his statue would be in Parliament Square, not Churchill’s. The appeasers would have been vindicated; the anti-appeasers cast into the dustbin of politics to write their memoirs in whatever was the acceptable equivalent for a shepherd’s hut in 1940.

History will judge our politicians’ reactions to COVID-19 similarly. Perhaps the lockdown sceptics will be vindicated; it was all a massive over-reaction to bad ‘flu’ and 10% of GDP was an unnecessary loss to the country. Or the COVID paranoiacs might feel, like Cassandra, that had their prophecies been heeded, the dead would be alive. Whatever position on the spectrum one chooses to adopt, there is evidence available to support one’s view. The weight of evidence doesn’t equate to the weight of argument, and its validity. Rather like the Brexit debate, the vehemence of commitment to a position is fast becoming a substitute for veracity.

Returning from long leave we’ve outlined our plan for two more closed weekends before our two week half term. I understand Churcher’s College, our close neighbours in Petersfield, have shortened their half term from two weeks to just one, and are operating the second week of half term as an online teaching week to have a sort of ‘semain sanitaire’ prior to the second half of term. This would go down like a rat sandwich, I know, at Bedales, amongst students and staff battling to keep it all together during these next two weeks. But it reflects the range of responses to COVID-19 restrictions that schools across the country are exercising.

Bedales’ current COVID restrictions aren’t as restrictive as those operated by some schools, and we’re positioned broadly in the middle of the spectrum. Our SAMBA II testing machine, which arrived on Thursday this week, should be transformative in how we can test students and speed up the awful and open-ended wait for the test result to arrive. And the wider school community of staff and their families can benefit from it too. Gavin Williamson’s avowed intent to keep schools open is predictably fatuous because illness, if it does strike in a school community, will mean teachers unable to teach, as opposed to students unable to attend.

If the dreaded 14 day isolation is visited on anyone over the next few weeks then Bedales parent Adrian Wooldridge’s book, The Wake Up Call: Why the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the West and how to fix it, would be a good read. As a global index, the bigger the state machinery: the lower the death toll.