‎Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch are delighted to be able to once again tour theatre productions directly into local schools. The touring productions include Princess Essex and the National Theatre’s Jekyll & Hyde as part of a nationwide tour.

Earlier this month, students of The Gateway Academy Tilbury, and St Edwards C of E Academy Romford, were able to experience a thought provoking new solo show written and performed by Anne Odeke. Princess Essex is based on the little-known, true story of Princess Dinubolu and is a funny and dynamic tale of the first black woman to ever enter a beauty pageant in the UK. It is a story which asks audiences to question why so much of black Essex history has been hidden, and what it means to be a ‘black Essex girl’.

The tour was a resounding hit with comments from students including Anne used great technique when taking on multiple roles and I learnt unknown stories of Black-Essex History”, “I struggle to stay focused, but this play held my attention. I learnt the true story behind the play” and “I learnt more about local black history; I just wish the play was longer.” A teacher from Gateway Academy said that “Anne has lots of engaging talent and I loved the comedy script. I also enjoyed learning local historical facts.” 

At the end of the month the National Theatre (NT), in partnership with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, is to tour Evan Placey’s Jekyll & Hyde, a radical reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale, to Gaynes School in Upminster, Robert Clack in Dagenham, Harris Academy Rainham, and Marshall’s Park Academy and St Edwards C of E Academy in Romford.

“As we rebuild our work with local schools through a new series of curriculum led partnerships, we are excited to be able to place high quality arts activities into young people’s everyday experiences. Partnerships with local artists such as Anne Odeke to uncover untold and important local stories are vital to celebrating diverse voices and identities. We are also thrilled to be continuing our extensive partnership with the National Theatre, bringing work of national significance into the borough and forming part of a national story of inspiring arts provisions in schools.” James Watson, Head of Learning & Participation at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

In a mash up of Victorian England and the modern day, the play explores how the repression of female voices is as prevalent in the 19th century as it is today. The cast includes Paksie Vernon, Lucy Elizabeth Thorburn, Huw Parmenter, Wesley Bozonga, Stuart Reid, Jasmeen James, Asha Kingsley and Russell Layton.

The production is designed by Amanda Stoodley with sound design by Ben Grant and lighting design by Joshua Pharo.

Evan Placey, Writer, says, “Jekyll & Hyde is an opportunity for young people to look at narratives they think they know well in radical new ways – asking questions about feminism and misogyny and how we bring about change. At a time when we need stories more than ever, and when it is conversely much more difficult for schools and young people to access live theatre, I am beyond thrilled that the National Theatre are bringing this play into schools and into the lives of young people who have been robbed of so much over the last couple years. Live theatre can be transformational, and every young person deserves the opportunity to engage with it.”

Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre said, “Touring live theatre directly into school halls is an essential part of the NT’s commitment to young people nationwide and so we’re delighted that with close support from our Theatre Nation Partners, Evan Placey’s reimagining of Jekyll & Hyde will be seen by over 10,500 young people in our first schools’ tour since 2019. We know access to the arts has a positive impact on the wellbeing and social development of young people and so as schools continue to face disruption and adapt to new ways of teaching, it’s more important than ever that we support creative learning as part of a broad education. The production explores pressing issues in today’s society and we hope it will spark discussion, encourage debate and create moments to bring together the school community again.”

Accompanied by a discussion with the cast and creative team, workshops and professional training for teachers, the play tackles urgent issues for teenagers including violence against women and the power of the internet in today’s society.

The schools’ tour forms part of the NT’s Theatre Nation Partnerships programme to grow and sustain new audiences for live theatre with support from our partner theatres: Theatre Royal Wakefield, Cast in Doncaster, Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire, The Wolverhampton Grand, The Lowry in Salford and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.

The NT’s secondary schools touring is supported by The Mohn Westlake Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Hearn Foundation, The Ingram Trust, The Constance Travis Charitable Trust and The Dorset Foundation – in memory of Harry M Weinrebe.

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