‘The iron tongue of midnight hath told 12!’ Three dozen students take Shakespeare on the road

Date 16.03.2023

The world is (nearly) a stage for one University of Northampton (UON) student as she inches toward the limelight after performing for school students.

Meg Mayers – who hails from North Wales; pictured in the middle of the middle row – is in the final year of her Acting degree but has had acting in her blood for years, having wanted to perform since childhood.

She picks up her story: “It might sound a bit corny, but I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be an actor. I was always in my school plays, joined the drama club and enjoyed everything about it. We used to write our own plays and develop our own stories and characters from scratch. I loved being creative because it was so much fun.

“Fast forward a few years, and here I am studying to be an actor. Its quite a move from being on the border with Chester but I specifically came to University of Northampton for this Acting course because it offered drama school training in a university environment. There’s so much I’ve enjoyed here, and we never stop, which is great because I like being busy.”

One project that has kept Meg and her fellow budding stage stars is a recent series of ‘Shakespeare on tour’ performances in secondary schools and colleges.

Meg was part of one of three student* groups using reduced versions of three Shakespeare plays – Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Midsummer Night’s Dream – to bring ‘culture classes’ to the masses. They visited five schools – Coventry College, Stamford College, Northampton College, Northampton School for Boys and North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College (NWSLC).

Meg continues: “I was a director of the Macbeth group. Shakespeare can seem lofty, people are scared of it, so we went down a non-traditional route to make the text more accessible and recognisable for a younger audience.

“We set ‘the Scottish play’ in 1972 to coincide with the Vietnam War allowing us to use a military theme, using a one-hour, condensed version. We felt we had strong engagement for that time, with great feedback from the students and their teachers.”

Emily Coates, at NWSLC, sums up the impact on her students: “The students from University of Northampton were so professional and engaging. They gave ours a real insight into higher education and possibilities of performance. They were so inspiring I have heard some of our students saying that UON is there number one choice when they apply to university.”

The production was also a chance for the team to pass on thespian top tips, as Meg adds: “We held a Q&A afterwards and had questions about how we learn the text, but that’s the easy bit because, if you concentrate on something and repeat it, and practice it often enough, it goes in. When it clicks, you know it; you can feel it.

“But it’s all about getting it right on the night, so you need to have a good warm up, physically and vocally. If your body and voice feel warm, everything is easier. Don’t sit and read the text for ages. Get on your feet as the text is more comfortable to work with if you move with it.”

Since September, Meg and her peers have been busy preparing for the performance pieces that form their final year dissertation projects, plays they have written themselves and which they will perform in a few weeks’ time. Meg concludes: “Our play is about group of friends who reunite to complete their professor’s research after he dies. There has been so much to do as we handle all the duties, on stage and backstage.

“Although acting will always be my favourite thing, I also love writing and directing. It’s been a great team working experience, getting to do a little bit of everything, which is a core part of the degree, exactly what I did at school and where I see myself going.”

The ‘Shakespeare on tour’ plays were co-organised by the University’s Schools and Colleges Liaison team, who provide interactive talks and sessions delivered in schools or colleges, or virtually.

*Meg’s full team was: Charlie Franklin, Ellis Reynolds, George Hastrup, Katie Blundell, Kira Garner, Steph Radcliffe, Achanti Palmer, Dylan Morris, Joshua Rowlett, Kain Walden, Luis Dias.