Last autumn when we took the cast of our ground-breaking production of ‘Remember’ to Krakow in Poland I was asked by the owner of Nobilistow School, Krystyna Majak, our host, if I would produce and direct a musical show for the Polish children in the future.
Without even thinking of the enormity of such a project I said I would. Running an extremely busy department here at St Edmund’s, I have to confess that I forgot all about it until the school in Krakow contacted me to tell me they were very excited about starting the production. Oppps! I had better get started then.
Fortunately, the Assistant Director of Drama, Howard Sykes, had written a fantastic musical version of the Italian classic, Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, which I had directed here several years ago. It was a charmingly memorable production. I immediately asked our Head, Ed O’Connor, if he would mind if I flew to Krakow for a couple of weekends to audition, block (work out the staging) and choreograph the kids over there. As ever, the Head is always supportive of the work we do and agreed to release me for the odd weekend, as well as for the Summer half term to stage this production. It came with a warning though – “Please don’t drive yourselves into the ground.” I knew it would be hard work but I also knew that the enthusiasm and joy that always accompanies the work I do at this delightful school over in Poland would see me through.
So, I asked the brilliant Aimee Walker-Reid, an ex-pupil and now a professional actress to assist me and to choreograph the show, and the real powerhouse of the St Ed’s Drama department, Howard Sykes, to be my right arm. Happily, both said yes. So, having cast the show, blocked the moves and set the dances, we spent this half term working 9 hours a day to bring to life our little wooden boy, Pinocchio, over in Krakow.
And what a week it was. In short, we staged a musical with 6 – 15 year old pupils (mostly 12 year olds!), who only speak English as a second or, indeed, third language and with very limited experience of Drama, in about 2 weeks. I’ll say that again, 2 weeks! Even pro actors would struggle with that time period. Oh yeah, and all of this in their school gymnasium. I can remember saying to Howard and Aimee on the plane on the way over there, as we were panicking about the task that lay ahead of us, that all we could do was ensure the children performed to the best of their ability and that the show held together technically. Well, I am extremely happy to say that we achieved that…and some. What we accomplished was remarkable, taking the St Edmund’s ethos of stretching and challenging the pupils all the way across Europe to Poland. We were, of course, helped all the way by the incredible efforts and wonderful support of our Krakovian colleagues and are extremely grateful to them for this. ‘I’ve Got No Strings’ certainly exceeded all our expectations. It was terrific. Really terrific. The school community at Nobilistow, including the staff and parents, were overwhelmed by the standard we had achieved. Moreover, the children had performed out of their skins and were immensely proud of their achievements. A little touch of St Edmund’s magic can travel a long way.