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A midwinter night’s tale at the John Madejski Academy

By Gillie Tunley and Matthew Farrall.

Students from the John Madejski Academy (JMA) and the Theodor-Fliedner-Gymnasium in Düsseldorf performed a one-night special at the JMA on Hartland Road in Whitley on 24 January.

A Winter’s Tale

Soberly clad in black and white, the Greek-style chorus parade solemnly onto stage and vocally vent their disapproval of Hermione, wife of King Leontes of Sicily. They become ever louder, more raucous and unintelligible against an arresting back projection – “leave her, she’s disgusting… she’s pregnant, but it’s not yours… with your brother.”

We are powerfully drawn into the contorted plot of A Winter’s Tale by the supremely talented JMA youth ensemble who thrillingly portray this tale of jealousy, exile and eventual forgiveness. “The silence often of pure innocence persuades when speaking fails.” The darkness of the play is lifted by a pastoral sheep-shearing celebration, with a carefree dance sequence set to joyous music.

The inspirational Tommy Robinson (JMA creative and performing arts teacher) deftly directs his gifted young cast through this harrowing human tale towards a heartwarming conclusion. JMA are to be congratulated on a thoroughly riveting production of this Shakespearean gem.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The talented Düsseldorf youth ensemble wove us into their enchanted Midsummer Night’s Dream with mellifluous music. The sartorially elegant Puck in white gloves and top hat mischievously beckons us into this story of order & disorder, reality & appearance and love & marriage.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, are to be married and great celebrations are planned. However, the course of true love does not run smoothly for the winsome star-crossed lovers Hermia & Lysander and Helena & Demetrius amid magic love potions and confusion in the fairy glade. Meanwhile, the hilarious Mechanicals, led by the earnest Peter Quince and aided and abetted by the exuberant Bottom and troupe, rehearse their moving masterpiece Pyramus and Thisbe.

We are also magically entertained by a fairy disco in the moonlit forest glade to the dulcet tones of Barry White. There is more magic and mischief as Bottom is transformed into a braying donkey and the rosebud-garlanded Titania takes this frolicking ass to her bower.

Finally, the enchantment is lifted and the couples awake to normality. Wedding celebrations ensue to the stirring strains of Wagner’s Wedding March and the Mechanicals thrill us with a highly dramatic performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, featuring a rather reluctant lion. The couples retire to a fairy blessing. Puck addresses the audience to a jazzy piano outro… a good dream, like a good play, should not be easily forgotten. We shall certainly not forget this magical and mesmerising performance by these exceptional young artistes from Düsseldorf.


After the interval there was a modern dance and mime style piece which was an interpretation of Romeo and Juliet called JULIET that was ambitious, bold, beautiful and tragic. The clever choreography and the addition of edgy modern electronic music and other symbolic ensemble playing was superb.

Two balletic dancers being deftly thrown around the stage through bundled human hurdles by the other cast who were also masked at times and in black clothing was just extraordinary and unexpected. In the words of Martha Graham “dance is the hidden language of the soul” and that’s exactly what we glimpsed in this incredible and professionally delivered piece of sheer art with entertainment.

The dance ended with the ballet dancers smearing their ruby-red lipstick all over their faces to give a jarring unforgettable note that will linger in the memory. The night ended with more esoteric modern dance with powerful themes and then some chirpy songs with the whole cast joining in.

If there isn’t a future Branagh, Gervais or Winslet amongst this lot I would be amazed. Although as a group, a troupe, cast or ensemble or whatever the term they have a wonderful esprit-de-corp which shined through and, even more importantly, they looked as though they really enjoyed it. Georgia Knight was the co-choreographer; she’s an ex JMA student who is leaving to study performance at Roehampton University.

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.

  1. John Madejski Academy
  2. Children helping children
  3. Reading and Düsseldorf celebrate the 70th anniversary of friendship
  4. Great drama at Whitley’s John Madejski Academy on 24 January

1 comment

  1. Thank you very much for this beautiful review.
    It was a pleasure to work and perfom at JMA for everyone.
    Hope to hear from you again about the fantastic work of the theatre group.

    Madlen Pieles
    Diplom-Musikpädagogin (graduate music teacher)

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