Just after 6.45 in the morning and 10 minutes down the road to the airport, I realise that I’ve forgotten my passport. Clearly I think I’m going on a bus to Islay to run my Hamlet workshop for Higher English students…After a swift about turn, I’m on the small plane with 8 other people, all half asleep, heading west. The first sight of the island is spectacular in the clear early morning light. Rugged, rocky, with a ragged coastline, I’m already wanting to get down onto the beach. I’m picked up at the airport by the janitor of Islay High School (pronounced ‘Isla’) and we speed down the road, talking ten to the dozen.
Swerving past the Bowmore whisky distillery (one of eight on the island). The school hoves into view. It’s small but buzzing with activity. I’m met by English teacher Gavin Ritchie and introduced to his class of S5/6 students and one intrepid Third year who clearly isn’t afraid of Shakespeare. Almost the whole bunch have traveled to the Citizens’ to watch our production of the play. As they went by coach and ferry they very sensibly made a weekend of it.
We’re soon getting to grips with the text and the group are very keen to exchange ideas and opinions about what our main character actually wants and what stops him getting it. We explore the scene with Hamlet and Gertrude and someone decides that he is ‘forcefully illuminating’ his mother at one point. Subtle stuff. They’re no slouches on Islay. After deciding characters’ tactics and learning key lines, the group are up on their feet, acting scenes out with gestures and facial expressions to rival the best thespian. The general consensus seems to be that ‘it was fun’. I’m pleased.
Gavin Ritchie asks if I want to see the ‘room’ where pupils go if they are a bit stressed out and want to calm down. I follow him along a slightly gloomy corridor. There’s a door at the end. Gavin opens it and we step out onto a balcony overlooking the glittering sea - there’s a swathe of steely blue sky overhead and the scent of salt and spray. It’s like stepping into Narnia without the fur coats. This is no ordinary school! In the afternoon I work with a lively third year class, on A Taste of Honey – coincidentally a TAG production from 2005. And then it’s back to the airport where security staff decide to search my bag and find a copy of Hamlet and 14 juggling balls which all have to go through the X ray machine again ‘because there’s so many of them’.
In the blink of an eye I’m home. A surreal but brilliant day. Thank you Islay High School for looking after me so well. I feel I may need to visit your chill out room again soon…
Louise Brown x