Drama at MCS offers something for everyone, with a huge range of opportunities available for pupils of all ages.
The school enjoys exciting partnerships with the Oxford Playhouse and the Pegasus Theatre, giving access to impressive performance spaces and professional direction. During the course of the year MCS stages as many as twelve productions, some specific to certain year groups, others open to all; the underlying principle is that every pupil should be able to take part in two shows during the year. Usual highlights of the annual programme include a Greek play, a large-scale musical, various studio productions including an Edinburgh Fringe transfer, a mainstage production at Oxford Playhouse and an outdoor Shakespeare on the banks of the Cherwell. The aim is to expose pupils to a mixture of classic texts and new writing, and older pupils are encouraged to gain experience of directing, producing and even writing their own pieces of theatre. With an equal emphasis on enjoyment and quality, there is definitely something to suit all tastes and abilities.
Through constant performance opportunities, LAMDA provision and our Theatre Academy, MCS aims to develop pupils’ stagecraft as well as their general confidence and collaborative skills. The MCS Theatre Academy was introduced in 2011 in tandem with two one-year residencies offered by the School and Oxford Playhouse to young professional directors and producers. These residents provide a professional edge to many of our productions, and Sixth-Formers benefit greatly from their expertise and advice as mentors, whether as actors or aspiring directors/producers.
Our resident professionals have gone on to have remarkably successful journeys in the theatre industry. Ellen Havard is Resident Director at the National Theatre, Alice Malin is Associate Director for ATC (Actors Touring Company), Rosie Banham (RSC and Lipsink) has just directed an acclaimed production at the Vaults Festival, Polly Tisdall directed the award-winning ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Family’ (National Tour 2016/17) and Francesca Murray-Fuentes is Assistant Director on a commercial tour of ‘84 Charing Cross Road’. Zak Khan is on the production team at the National Theatre, Ashleigh Wheeler runs The Yard, Sam Julyan’s company is behind the recent celebrated productions of ‘Room’ and ‘No Villain’ and Ciara McCafferty is currently one of the prestigious Old Vic 12.
The Academy has also produced exceptional actors, several of whom stand poised to enter the profession:
‘It was whilst working with the Theatre Academy that I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the Performing Arts; the opportunity to work with professional directors in professional venues has gone a long way to preparing me for acting at university and beyond – Hugh Tappin, Oxford University
Drama scholarships are available for boys and girls entering the Sixth Form, please click here for details.
The Drama department’s 2019 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was recently awarded five stars by The Oxford Times, who called the piece “utterly beautiful” and “a theatrical triumph.”
When We Meet Again is an original eight-part radio play researched, written, performed and produced by MCS pupils and staff. Drawing inspiration from original accounts – including those in the MCS archives and David Bebbington’s Goodbye Shirley – it draws on the striking parallels between the ‘Phoney War’ period from September 1939-May 1940 and our current circumstances amid the Covid19 lockdown – a period of waiting, with movement curtailed, foodstuffs disappearing from the shelves and normal life disrupted.
Episode 1 ‘Home’ launches on Friday 8 May at 6pm to mark VE Day.
"Magdalen College School actors triumph with innocent tale of love"The Oxford Times on A Midsummer Night's Dream (July 2019)
We perform a large amount of new writing, as much as half of the year’s programme in some years. In 2016 we premiered a new musical set during the Russian revolution, and our 2018 centenary commemorations for WWI were centred around a large-scale collaborative project between pupils and staff which resulted in an original stage production, Reflections. You can hear more about this extraordinary process here:
"The professional input was obvious - this was no normal school play - an absolute delight… A Triumph - performances worthy of a professional company"The Oxford Times on The Wind in the Willows (July 2016)
Major new musical adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, and Peter Pan have graced the stage of the Oxford Playhouse, and our Edinburgh Fringe offering is often a piece of new writing, most recently 2019’s Dream Machine, by award-winning writer Jack Bradfield, commissioned by the school. Our 2017 Fringe production, The Runner, was shortlisted for an Amnesty prize and received a 5* review from the British Theatre Guide.
Several original pieces of writing by Sixth Form pupils have been performed as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts, including a new adaptation of The Frogs in 2019. There is usually at least one pupil-directed production in the year’s programme, not to mention the hotly-contested House Drama competition, which sees each house perform a fifteen-minute piece of theatre to a packed Big School.
The 2019-20 season has got off to an exciting start with a new version of Euripides’ Cyclops, adapted from a little-known 1819 translation by P. B. Shelley which was first publicly aired as the accompanying notes to an MCS production in 1887! The Sixth Form musical, Guys and Dolls, was widely acknowledged to be the best yet, with a fantastic array of talent on show from cast, band and backstage crew.
All shows involve pupils on the technical and backstage crews, and MCS has recently set up a Technical Theatre Academy based at Pegasus Theatre to develop this side of the school’s provision. Our older pupils take full ownership over lighting and sound designs for our major productions, and gain invaluable experience from working alongside industry professionals at Oxford Playhouse and elsewhere. They also play a key role in mentoring younger pupils.
Here are some thoughts about their experiences from pupils who have been part of the technical crews:
‘By participating in technical theatre I have gained invaluable experience in the field of electrical engineering, in which I hope to ultimately pursue a career. It’s a great opportunity to put the theoretical knowledge from the classroom into practice, often for the first time.’ John, Lower Sixth
‘I have had the time of my life in the Theatre Tech at MCS, and have met some of the nicest and funniest people I have ever and probably will ever meet.’ Tom, Upper Fourth
‘We all work hard in our different areas and produce something really cool in the end, and it’s nice to be able to rely on someone to work on a certain thing whilst you’re busy with something else. I like the friendliness of everyone involved, and the way that everyone is praised for their work, no matter how big an impact it makes on the final production.’ – Kaylan, Third Form
MCS is always keen to give pupils the chance to take their passion for drama in new directions, and we collaborate with various other departments on a number of projects throughout the year. 2018 saw a group of actors perform excerpts from Twelfth Night at an alumnus dinner in London’s Middle Temple Hall, the very space in which the play was originally premiered! The Drama staff are always looking for new challenges too, for example taking a group of Sixth Formers on tour through the Tuscan hills as ‘strolling players’, performing The Knight’s Tale to Italian audiences for a week in July. Recent leavers made up the cast for semi-professional production of a new musical, Swing Heil!, set in Nazi Germany’s jazz underworld. And we’re gearing up for 2020’s exciting new community opera project, Birdland, which will see a cast of many hundreds take to school field for a huge outdoor performance of this newly-commissioned work by Bob Chilcott. All the world’s a stage, so come and join the fun!
|Beauty and the Beast||Animal Farm|
|The War of the Worlds||The Lord of the Flies
|Buckets||The Browning Version|
|Private Lives||The Small Hours
|Moby Dick||A Midsummer Night Dream
|Peter Pan||The Recruiting Officer|
|Much Ado about Nothing||The Hobbit
|Ferrari Steel||The Frogs|
|Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow||The Dream Machine