Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bumping into my Form 1 English Teacher ... Romanoff and Juliet

I unexpectedly met my Form 1 English teacher (Year 8 in new money) this morning. It’s been fifteen years since I left the school, and he moved on to other work. At school I was into Maths and Physics. English Literature was a necessary evil, and although a voracious reader from no age (I blame Enid Blyton), the wonders of Shakespeare and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie seemed alien. (Somewhat embarrassing that I won a school poetry competition one year!) (But probably explains the overabundance of brackets in this blog.)

But looking back, the school plays this teacher organised did make an impression. If I remember correctly, Sean O’Casey’s trilogy The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock (including Captain Boyle’s line “Th' whole worl's in a terrible state o' chassis”) and The Plough and the Stars played on alternate years.

It feels like my more recent interest in the arts traces back to viewing these early school dramatics, and the rather experimental drama workshops he held during some English lessons.

The play Romanoff and Juliet also stands out in my mind. Although quite a distant memory, I do recall it being behind an interest in the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, and Sting – further fuelled by an end of term digression by a Form 3 history teacher into disarmament. (History was another subject I quickly gave up.)

Looking for a copy of the play recently, I came across this synopsis of the plot that brought back some of the story …

“Ustinov [he wrote the play, produced the film and starred in it too], with a beard, rimmed nose-glasses and padded waistline, is the president of the smallest of all mythical countries. It is so small that it has a standing army of two—and the army doesn't even stand, but slouches. This country lies smack between the East and the West, so each of these world divisions seeks to make Ustinov an ally. Russia sends an ambassador—a Romanoff, no less. The U.S. dispatches one of its typical business diplomats. One of several high points of this delightful comedy is the scene in which Ustinov shuttles between the rival embassies, listening to their blandishments and threats. This is a hilarious cartoon of diplomacy. Why the title, ROMANOFF AND JULIET? The Russian has a son, and the American has a daughter named Juliet and these twain fall in love. And love has its sway. National rivalries vanish as the parents are reconciled after a wedding which is remarkable for its lunacy.”
Looking back, even the more unenjoyable aspects of school education can prove worthwhile in the long run. Thank you Mr O. And all the best for retirement, writing and spending time on endeavours that you enjoy.


John Self said...

Hm, Cider with Rosie, eh? Sounds like we were much of an age if English lit syllabus books are a judge. We also did Bernard MacLaverty's (wonderful) Lamb, Orwell's Animal Farm, Golding's Lord of the Flies and the WWI poetry collection Up the Line to Death.

Alan in Belfast said...

Man for All Seasons was in there too ... good because we could watch the film. (Though recently I've started to hear stuff suggesting that Thomas Moore wasn't such a great man after all.)

The unlucky ones did Macbeth. The Ogre Downstairs was a first year favourite, and made chemistry sound exciting.

John Self said...

Yes, I did Macbeth. To this day it's the only Shakespeare play I know even slightly.

Alan in Belfast said...

We read through The Merchant of Venice ("a pound of flesh" etc), but not for an exam. Last year's film version was good!