The Youth of Today...

Here is a link to yet another video... but this is substantially longer than the others I have posted recently, and, as it leads to a programme on BBC iplayer, has a limited lifespan (only 3 more days as I write).
I was feeling a bit off colour this morning and rather than pollute my brain with what passes for daytime TV I looked up this programme as I had heard some good things about it, and I wasn't disappointed. Too much of the media today portrays young people as feckless and feral, and programming aimed at them is usually aiming at double digit IQs (at best)...
This, however, showed 9 young people between the ages of 13-15 tackling Shakespeare monologues in front of a large audience at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, and a panel of 3 judges: Sam West, Imogen Stubbs and Simon Schama. These were the best of thousands from across the country who had entered the "Off by Heart" competition and represented young people from all sorts of backgrounds. It was particularly pleasing to see Amy McAteer from my alma mater, Sullivan Upper School, doing so well in the competition (though there were 2 annoying factors there; first, her participation prompted the worst punning headline I have ever seen on the BBC NI website, so bad I refuse to repeat it, and second, Sullivan is not, as the narrator of the programme states, either a catholic school or in sectarianly divided Belfast, but rather a mixed (majority protestant) grammar school in Holywood, North Down).
When I was at school an aeon ago, I did a lot of Shakespeare, both in class and in performing a full play every December. The class work was generally stultifying, but the challenge of performing it has helped to shape and stretch me mentally and emotionally... It isn't for everyone, but it made a big difference to this former working class boy from East Belfast, and I would love to see more people, especially but not exclusively young people, wrestling with the bard's texts... I am told that, sadly the weight of academic work has made full productions impossible at my old school these days... So the work of groups like the Schools Shakespeare Festival, where pupils can perform abridged productions becomes more important. 
Shakespeare is also used in other ways outside of schools, notably in the work of the Educational Shakespeare Company, that works with prisoners and ex-prisoners, work-shopping, adapting and filming Shakespeare plays.
But back to the production... I missed the original broadcast on BBC2 because I was watching the Champion's League Final, which had its own "To be or not to be" element. But it contrasted more notably with the programme on BBC1, "The Voice" - which, frankly, I enjoyed in the first few audition weeks, with it's gimmicky rotating chairs etc., but which has, in my estimation descended into the same genre as the X-Factor and the like... Sadly it has become less about the voice, and more about the image, and the competition between the coaches egos, where hype is everything... every performance is "nailed", "owned" or "dope".
Thankfully there was no such hyperbole on "Off by Heart"...  There was measured praise and appropriate, constructive criticism. It was also free from any reality show gimmickry, and who will it be eliminations, although I could have done with the Apprentice-like shots of the competitors wending their way round stainless-steel railed walkways at the beginning. At the end of the day it was down to one young person wrestling with the words of the greatest writer in the English language... All of the finalists deserve great praise, but the well-deserved winner (NO SPOILER) was simply spell-binding...
Pah... the youth of today...


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