‘This Happy Breed’: Noel Coward Foundation

11 AUGUST – 15 AUGUST 2008

This was work in progress for a unique intergenerational theatre and film project funded by The Noel Coward Foundation.

SharniFor a week in August we held a five day workshop at Age Exchange with a group of young actors aged from 13 – 17 and with some older students to act as mentors. David Savill, Director of Arts and Education at Age Exchange, and Malcolm Jones, Arts and Education Officer at Age Exchange led the week’s workshops and rehearsal. The young actors looked at the context of the play using historical material and interviewed some of the older volunteers at Age Exchange who had memories of life at the time that Coward’s play takes place. We also held an acting workshop with actor and director Ben Thomas and a musical workshop on Coward’s song London Pride with Musical Director Michael Chance.

The week began by familiarising the students with the play, who Noel Coward was and the historical context of the work. We looked at film of Noel Coward being interviewed, film of First World War testimonies and music from the period.

Later we selected short extracts from the play, which we felt allowed the students to explore the character and relationships of the main participants. These we worked on throughout the week building the background of the people in the story.

Noel CowardA very useful session was spent with Lil Murrell, Kitty Finch, Joan Pearce and Eileen O’Sullivan, Age Exchange volunteers, who shared details of how they and their parents lived their lives in the 1930s. This supplied a realistic backdrop to the students’ interpretation of the chosen scenes.

Finally on Friday 15 August we presented the selection of scenes in performance to an invited audience including Robert Gardiner, Trustee of the Noel Coward Foundation, and actor/director Ben Thomas.

The students worked incredibly hard and enjoyed the week from the feedback we had. Most importantly they had discovered a writer they had never experienced before in Noel Coward and enjoyed it. They had also explored a period of history both politically and socially they knew little about and between the experience of the play and the Age Exchange volunteers had come out with a greater understanding of people’s lives, including their own families, in the 1930s.

The students were:
Soraya Thompson, Paloma Thompson, Lauren Davies, Megan McGery, Alice Roche, Stephanie McAuliffe, Sharni Cowcher, Lee Cooper, Laurence Jarlett, Ellie Savill.

Mentors:
Emma Beard, Jess Amos-Davidson, Olivia Ponting