4 December 2017

Members of Lower School and the Third Year presented two specially commissioned plays to great acclaim in the Amey Theatre on Thursday and Friday last week.

Black River Bridge, written for our Lower School boys by Andy Cargill and directed by Joe McDonnell, told the stories of child soldiers during the American Civil War of 1861-1865. Johnny Clem, a musician, joins the Union army dreaming of becoming a successful soldier after being downtrodden and ignored. Orion Howe leaves home as a result of his father’s drunken beatings. He too joins the Union army by lying about his age. The battle of Black River Bridge turns out to be the most ‘human’ moment he has ever had.

This was a beautifully staged production. A haunting melody, twinkling candle lights and ghostly black and white photos projected onto a gauze curtain immediately drew us into the world of the play. The experiences of the young soldiers were engagingly represented as we witnessed some delightfully rhythmic route marching, rousing battle cries and all the thrilling chaos of battle. The elation of a victory was tempered by the misery of setbacks and of course, the terrible cost of war. The cast, crew and production team deserve great credit for bringing these stories to life in such mature and powerful fashion. The energy and commitment of our young actors were fitting tributes to the boys who fought and in many cases died in the American Civil War.

After an interval, members of the Third Year took to the stage in the second new play of the evening. OA Ed Rowett’s B12: a school story – commissioned and directed by Ben Phillips – drew inspiration from archivist Sarah Wearne’s fabulous A History of Abingdon School in 63 objects. Set in room B12 – one of the oldest rooms in the school – the play was an episodic piece, in which each of the five scenes explored a different period in the school’s recent history. We began in detention, where a group of boys assembled under the watchful eyes and spectacularly bewhiskered cheeks of a maths master to remove decades of dried chewing gum from the undersides of classroom chairs. Then came the Zodiacs, a schoolboy pop group bearing an uncanny resemblance to another fractious mop-top musical quartet, as they gathered in B12 for an interview with the Abingdonian’s correspondent. There followed a nervy encounter between two boys preparing for a joint debate with St Helen’s girls on a far-from-PC motion, and another scene in which the potential presence of St Helen’s girls was also a key ingredient as Dr Griffin steeled himself for the annual play auditions in the company of assistant producer Mr Boyd. All these scenes featured brilliant comic writing that demanded great skill from the cast in mastering the art of timing punchlines. However, the final scene was a delightfully unexpected contrast that required a different set of skills as we were transported back to September 1915 and the gravity of a farewell encounter between a master and a recent pupil, now in uniform and about to leave for the front. The subtlety and subtext of their exchange over the loan of a book was tremendous, and brought the curtain down on what Mr Windsor called “a superb night of drama”.

Congratulations and thanks to all who contributed to these excellent productions, and especially the technical team under the direction of Nick Lloyd, George Killick and Emma Fever. A retiring collection raised over £200 for Tom’s Woodland Fund, a project that seeks to purchase and establish a piece of public woodland in the Abingdon area for everyone to enjoy.

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