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.

Bedales creative genie

The creative genie has been perky here over the past few evenings – and I have seen (literally, as they say) only half of it. Evening meetings have meant that I have only seen half of the Extended Project presentations (6.1) and the BAC devised pieces (Block 5) – a modest performance by me but splendidly perky from our performers.

Monday evening and the SLT’s audience have 5 different Extended Projects presented: Emily B’s chronicle of (great) photos of dancers; Louis G’s technically bristling account of recording an album; Chloe G described her quest for the material for her short story about Romany gypsies; Juliette P has written the equivalent of a small book’s worth of thoughts (divided into a mere 20  articles) on Feminism; Harry M  has been exploring how the visual representation of George Washington was used to reinforce the American idea of Manifest Destiny; and finally Peter P, inspired by such influences as Ginsberg‘s Howl, and under the aegis of the National Theatre’s (great) New Views scheme, has written a play, which we all hope to see, either here or in the more brutalist surroundings of the NT.

As for the Block 5 BAC drama, I catch only 3 performances in the second half of the show on Wednesday evening; they all show a willingness to challenge the audience’s expectations of what the theatrical experience should entail; all have a bold willingness to use the range of genres and media available to them; and all show the way that intriguing things happen when a group grips an idea and, with the benefit of influences like George Grosz, Brecht and Forced Entertainment, carries that idea through to its dramatic conclusion.

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.