Winter trip to Stratford-upon-Avon

What better way for our English students to unwind at the end of term than a Christmassy day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon?

For the remarkable price of just £5, our students boarded coaches to spend a day learning and playing literary games in the wonderful hospitality of our Shakespeare Institute, culminating in a trip to see the RSC’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol in the iconic Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Dr Hakeem Yusuf and colleagues at Babcock University Charlotte, Jacob and Eleanor (English and Creative Writing students) enjoying Dr Rebecca Mitchell’s A Christmas Carol adaptation workshop.

A Merry Morning

Though known as a world-class destination for Shakespeare scholarship, yesterday the Shakespeare Institute transformed into a merry grotto for our undergraduate students.

“I really love being in the atmosphere of the Shakespeare Institute building,” said Eleanor, a final year student. “I love being around people who are equally enthused about the subject.”

The Institute’s charming rooms played host to inventive and interactive festive workshops through the day, delivered by our talented academic staff.

Workshop topics included a discussion of Christmas gambols with Dr Jessica Fay; Nutcrackers and Sugarplums with Dr Deborah Longworth; and an analysis of queer Christmas songs with Dr Rachel Sykes

Dr Rachel Sykes’ workshop on queer Christmas songs.Dr Rachel Sykes’ workshop on queer Christmas songs.

Rachel summarised her workshop for us: “I ruined Christmas by talking about depression and feelings of isolation, but then I swung it round by getting them to listen to some really great, queer, contemporary Christmas songs that really are fun re-imaginings of Christmas.”

Another popular morning session was Dr Rebecca Mitchell’s analysis of the various adaptations of A Christmas Carol, a story that has been adapted more times than the Bible.

Students discuss adaptations of A Christmas Carol.Students discuss adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

Jack Price, a BA English and History student, attended the session: “Film adaptations are different from their novels inherently, so the workshop has given me a new way to start looking at those adaptations and to stop being such a snob in thinking that the novel is the better version!”

Masks, Christmas Cards and Ghost Stories

The afternoon ramped up the festive fun another Noël notch, with sessions on Christmas in the Colonies; a Christmas card-making workshop, using extracts taken from genre fiction; and a look at the medieval masque tradition.

Final year student Emma directs a Christmas masque in Dr Olivia Robinson’s workshop.Final year student Emma directs a Christmas masque in Dr Olivia Robinson’s workshop.

Eloise, a final year BA English student, described the session: “We put on a bit of a masque ourselves. We decorated some masks and people read out a transcript that would have been performed as part of gift-giving to nobility. Lots of glitter and feathers and paint!”

BA English student Eloise takes centre stage in a Christmas masque.BA English student Eloise takes centre stage in a Christmas masque.

“It was all an elaborate show,” added Jacob, a final year English and Creative Writing student. “Christmas, rather than being a time of enjoying yourself and celebration, was just another excuse to rub shoulders with your social betters and maybe win some allies in political circles.”

Others attended a workshop on gothic Christmas stories with Dr Jimmy Packham. Jimmy explained, “I think everyone likes a good spooking every now and again. As the night sets in early, as people gather around with their families – I think storytelling comes out of that naturally.”

Dr Amy Burge’s workshop making Christmas cards from genre novels.Dr Amy Burge’s workshop making Christmas cards from genre novels.

Liv, an English and History of Art student, said: “We looked at what makes a gothic Christmas story and we had to create our own, which was brilliant. Really flexed our creative muscles.”

We asked Jimmy which of his students’ stories was his favourite. “There was one about a gingerbread man who comes to life to punish greedy children by baking them into gingerbread pies. I suppose the moral in that story is not to be too greedy during the festive season!”

Christmas decorations to inspire creepy gothic Christmas stories.Christmas decorations to inspire creepy gothic Christmas stories.

Charades, anyone?

Their minds expanded, their creativity satiated, our English students next indulged in well-deserved mince pies and mulled drinks, before delving into the timeless Christmas tradition of charades.

The students were tasked with creating a frozen tableau of a literary masterpiece. Tableaus ranged from Murder on the Orient Express to Dorian Gray, with more than one in homage to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, revealing the reading interests of our students!

Literary charades in full swing.Literary charades in full swing.

A Special Guest

The evening took on a welcome RSC twist with David Edgar dropping into the Institute to offer our students an exclusive Q&A on his current adaptation of A Christmas Carol, for which they had a ticket in their pocket.

The day ended with the theatre trip itself to see the Dickensian classic re-told by the phenomenal collective talent of the RSC. It was a fitting end to the day. The cherry on top of a delicious Christmas cake.

Special guest David Edgar speaks about the RSC production of A Christmas Carol.Special guest David Edgar speaks about the RSC production of A Christmas Carol.

A Merry Christmas to all

It is events such as these, organised by the Department of English, which help explain why their degree programmes receive such fantastic feedback from students. Their BA English degree received a 95% overall satisfaction rating in the National Student Survey 2018, whilst BA English and Creative Writing received 97%. This achievement is testament to the extra-curricular efforts provided by the Department, as well as their supportive learning environment and research-led teaching.

Festive cheer at the Shakespeare InstituteFestive cheer at the Shakespeare Institute.

The Winter might have been full of discontent for Richard III but the festivities hosted by the Shakespeare Institute ensured that our students went home very content indeed.

“You know that you’re somewhere so special,” said final year student Liv, reflecting on the day in Stratford-upon-Avon. “You’re in Shakespeare’s birthplace and you feel that when you come here.”

Thank you for reading. We wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Words: Simon Fairbanks
Images: Victoria Beddoes