Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

RSC star Jonjo O’Neill brings some extra class to school’s production

You’re a young lad, and you’ve just been roped into the school play. And not just any play either.

No, sir . . . St Mary’s Grammar School on Belfast’s Glen Road has decided to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in time for Christmas.

Who better, then, to pay a surprise visit to the budding thespians than a Royal Shakespeare Company actor himself — and a former pupil to boot.

Jonjo O’Neill, a star of both stage and screen, took time out from the RSC Ensemble to conduct a masterclass in acting for the lads — and the lasses — in the production, as the female characters will be played by teachers.

“Things have certainly changed since I was a pupil here,” said 32-year-old Jonjo, whose most recent movie role was in Defiance, starring Daniel Craig.

“It’s great to see the school taking on such a production. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a challenging work, but from what I’ve seen these guys are up for it.”

A couple of months ago, the school suffered a midsummer nightmare when its assembly hall was badly damaged by suspected arsonists.

Rehearsals for the Bard’s masterpiece, which was written nearly 500 years ago, are taking place in the newly refurbished hall.

When the production is eventually staged in December, the proceeds will go towards what it cost to put it on.

Paul Laverty, the head of drama at St Mary’s and also the play’s producer and director, said Jonjo’s visit had inspired his young would-be actors.

“It’s not every day a man of Jonjo’s standing in the world of Shakespeare comes to visit,” said Mr Laverty.

“As a local man and an ex-pupil, he’s proof that success can be achieved if you work hard at it.”

He added: “Jonjo gave us a masterclass in acting today and it was much appreciated.”

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