Mr Hornsby and his talented troupe of Drama students gave a show-stopping performance in the Mabinogion, bringing to life the mythical Britain of old.

The following review is provided by Charles Atkinson, Head of Drama (1988-2013):

I imagine that Mr. Joe Hornsby endured a fair few sleepless nights fearing that Covid might completely sabotage his first Bloxham School production, but happily it did not, and we were treated to a memorable performance in the Great Hall.

The Mabinogion – a set of stories written in medieval Welsh, derived originally from oral sources, and here presented in dramatised form – has many of the archetypal features of myth: heroes on perilous quests, damsels in distress, giants, dwarfs, crones, dragons, to name but a few – a colourful panoply brought to life by a large and enthusiastic cast.

I was immediately struck by the set – a huge scaffolding structure, with balcony and staircases, in front of the proscenium arch, the effect of which was twofold; It created a multi-layered stage space which was imaginatively used, and it threw much of the action forward to the feet of the audience, drawing them into an intimacy with the cast. The lighting was excellent, with the stage washed in soft, frequently changing colours – greens, blues, gold – all evocative of fairyland, whilst the atmospheric music was kept at an appropriate volume, very rarely smothering the lines of the actors. There was an impressive range of costumes, some suggestive of the medieval period, some more contemporary, but all perfectly chosen to illustrate the social status, or dramatic role, of the character involved.

The puppets were superb – the dragon, the pig, the salmon, the writhing green snakes, and particularly the eagle, which I could have happily watched flying for ten minutes; and the effect was enhanced by skilful, sympathetic puppeteers, who blended their own movements with those of the various creatures.

This production was very much a collective effort, and the attention of the audience was focused on the ensemble members from the very start, as they slithered onto the stage to the accompaniment of rhythmic, pulsing music, and competed for possession of that fatal symbol of kingship, the crown. Later they engaged in a well-choreographed stave fight, and after the interval even mutated into a herd of sheep, with some very convincing bleats issuing from downstage centre. The early part of the narration was delivered by Bedwyr (Thomas VH) who projected his lines impressively; and then the focus shifted to the adventures of Owain (Jemima B) who articulated clearly and moved with assurance around the stage, whilst Chloe G-C, as the Lady of the Fountain, injected some real passion into her performance. The total effect was enhanced by the well-judged use of narrators from the balcony as the action proceeded below.

The second half tells the story of Culwch, who like so many mythological heroes begins his life in squalid circumstances (born in a pigsty, to be precise) but rises above this initial disadvantage to win the hand of Olwen. Joe L gave a vigorous, energetic performance as the young hero, whilst Morgan T as King Cilydd exuded onstage confidence and injected some engaging humour into the action. Millie W, as the Herdsman’s wife, produced a rustic accent broader than any I have heard in North Oxfordshire, and Layla W contrived a quite outstanding mime sequence, as she sharpened her (wooden) sword with precise ceremonial movements. Bertie B, as Olwen’s villainous father, was given the task of ranting to the sound of snake-hissing, and seemed to relish every moment of it. The ensemble action continued to maintain a very high standard. Occasionally there were uncertainties in onstage movement, occasionally lines could have been delivered with greater clarity, but the production was most impressive, and a fine example of integrated theatre. Congratulations to all concerned.

For photos of the performance, please visit our Flixr page