This piqued my interest (curiosity may have killed the cat, but in between all of the gory felinicide it finds plenty of time to prod me into a bit of lesson planning), and a quick Google search took me to Be Stone No More, a project by the RSC involving actors performing ‘Table Top Shakespeare’. I won’t explain what this is, just have a look at these examples for yourself:
Romeo and Juliet performed by Sam Taylor
Hamlet performed by Nina Lampic
What a great way to get pupils to cement their understanding of a narrative’s plot, don’t you think? A lot more interesting than a fusty old card sort.
Director Tim Etchells, who created the idea, makes reference to using “a collection of banal materials and objects”, which suggests a disconnection between the objects and the characters. However, for those who like a bit of praxis and extended abstract thinking, ‘banal materials’ are an opportunity to make interesting connections with seemingly unconnected objects.
Having just looked at the story of Romeo and Juliet with my Year 11 class, I felt this was a perfect task to consolidate their understanding of the plot before moving onto textual analysis. With this in mind, I made a quick trip to the 99p shop with no other criteria than to find items that came in packets of 8 or more. Just under £15 lighter, I came back with this haul of ‘banal’ objects:
I then sorted this potpourri of cheap curios into 8 Table Top Shakespeare starter sets:
The lessons that resulted were quite simple. After arranging the pupils into groups of 3-4, I gave each group a sheet of sugar paper and a pen. As a nice recall starter, I asked each group to write down the names of as many characters from the play that they could remember. Inspired by the spirit of competition, cue groups huddled over sheets trying to protect the classified name of “that bloke who married them” and taking out super injunctions so that nobody in their group may utter the names of the Montague servants out loud for fear of other groups hearing this classified information.
Once we’d recapped and I’d broken the Official Secrets Act by asking them to share their lists with each other, I presented each group with their TTS starter kit. This group understand the SOLO levels, so were comfortable when I asked them to use extended abstract thinking to apply an object to each name. I asked them to think about how they can make links between the object and the character and to justify their choices. As these objects weren’t bought without conscious connections in mind – price was the only influencing factor – this is a nice use of praxis, or post rationalisation (the pupils are doing the work to justify the connections: I had no preconceived ideas about connections when I handed them out). I also urged them to root around in their pockets and bags for any other items that they wanted to use to bolster the kits.
The extended abstract connections were excellent and showed real understanding of character. I heard discussions where people had assigned a toothbrush to Lady Capulet as it symbolises health and care, only for others in the same group to argue that Nurse would fit that reasoning better and that a scourer should be Lady Capulet as she is only interested in the appearance of perfection. In other groups, Nurse was a plant pot because she nurtured Juliet and watched her grow, unlike her mum. A peg represented Friar Lawrence because he binds the lovers together through marriage. A plastic banana was Mercutio because he has a skewed look on love compared to Romeo. Romeo was seen as a packet of tissues “because he’s soppy” and a pineapple because “he’s soft inside”. Tybalt was a toy dinosaur or a soldier because of his aggression, and even a shuttlecock because… “well, he’s a cock, isn’t he sir?”
We then looked at some clips from the videos above and I set them the task of creating their own 5-10 minute Table Top Shakespeare films. They planned this out ready to make their films during the next lesson. At the beginning of this next lesson, we did some work on speaking and listening success criteria. They were then given a video camera, a table, their boxes of objects and the lesson to produce their films. The pupils really threw themselves into the task and showed clear understanding of the plot of the play and how the narrative fits together as a whole. This will inform their textual analysis and help them support their ideas (particularly helpful with a discussion of foreshadowing) by reference to the wider text.
But why stop at Shakespeare? I’ll be using Table Top ‘Of Mice and Men’ and Table Top ‘An Inspector Calls’ to revise with GCSE classes in the future.