Jon Scott, the Director of Drama at Cranleigh, talks about the broader value of producing plays and arts events at all times, and especially during lockdown

Cranleigh has a long history of producing challenging plays and edgy musical productions. As a department we believe that the very best school drama can to help to raise emotional and difficult issues and encourage pupils to address them.

Over the last few years, we’ve staged the musical Chicago, the drama Enron about the banking collapse, a play about digital bullying and sexting and even Punk Rock. This incorporated transitional scenes of thrash rock that were a gift to our talented contemporary musicians.

Indeed, Punk Rock is just about the most challenging play a school can produce, tackling issues of mental health, peer on peer abuse, underage sexual activity, substance misuse and bullying. The powerful performance at Cranleigh was a risk, but one that was wholly worth it for the results. These included interrogation of scenes from the play as part of upper school PSHE lessons and supporting a culture of openness where pupils were given the language to be able to talk about things that concerned them.

This culture of pushing boundaries through drama has continued this year. We were fortunate to be supported in being able to carry on lessons throughout lockdown, with staff and pupils finding increasingly innovative ways to explore text and performance with the use of Google, Zoom and film platforms. With real restrictions created by social distancing and sticking within year-group bubbles, we wanted to entertain pupils. We were able to present two productions of a more light-hearted nature – Black Comedy and The Musicians, both of which were really enjoyed by socially distanced audiences of pupils and also streamed for others to enjoy.

Cranleigh The Musicians Play Conflicted Copy From Conors Mac Book Pro On Copy
Performance at Cranleigh School

“Our culture of pushing boundaries through drama has continued, with staff and pupils finding increasingly innovative ways to explore text and performance”

Lockdown inevitably also highlighted worries for pupils and a need to focus on aspects of mental wellness. So, this term we’ve explored more film-based drama and we’ve focused it on mental health. Our usual House plays, which need an audience and mixed year groups, transitioned into the launch of a House film competition. Our drama studios have just been refurbished with new high-tech rehearsal spaces and a green screen room to enhance filming technique, so it was a great time to draw more pupils into trying film.

Cranleigh has four boys’ and four girls’ houses, affiliated into pairs and they worked together to create four brilliant co-ed films tackling social issues. It was so successful that we’ll run this in future years too. Lockdown has definitely created more opportunities for drama, although we miss our audiences and look forward to at least a few performances over the academic year when we can also offer the opportunity for our local community to participate in high quality arts. We hope to continue to challenge what is possible in theatre and film going forwards, and will continue to ask our audiences, in whatever medium, to question their own thinking and their place in the world.

Further reading: Millfield pilots modern dance programme