Two Weeks with the Queen 1

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1 Two Weeks with the Queen A play by Mary Morris adapted from Morris Gleitzman s novel of the same title. Morris Gleitzman s Two Weeks with the Queen has proven to be an exceptionally successful novel with young readers. It touches on a range of very important issues which are too often thought to be beyond the capacity of the young to understand or appreciate. When Mary Morris happened upon the novel she recognised that here was a story which offered meaning and value for a much wider audience as a play. Gleitzman wrote a novel for young readers; Morris has written a play for us all. The play was first directed by Wayne Harrison for the 1992 Sydney Festival. It received rich praise from its first performances because of the play s many wonderful dramatic qualities. The capacity of this play to touch much wider audiences can be recognised in its further success in productions overseas; in England, Canada, Japan, USA, Cuba and Portugal. When doctors tell Colin Mudford that Luke, his brother, has cancer and that it is incurable, Colin is determined to find a solution to the problem that these slack Australian doctors have not considered. Colin is sent to England by his parents to protect him from their pain of seeing Luke dying. They believe that he cannot fully understand what is happening to his brother. Colin feels excluded and isolated but he is determined to take some action; he must help his brother. There is only one clear solution that appears open to him; if you need help and you do not know who to ask, you go to the top; and the Queen is a high as you can go. Dear Your Majesty the Queen, I need to speak to you urgently about my brother Luke. He s got cancer and the doctors in Australia are being really slack Yours sincerely Colin Mudford P.S. This is not a hoax. In the process of trying to make an impression on a Queen, who appears not to hear or care, Colin meets a variety of exceptional people who all help him come to understand his personal tragedy with the impeding death of his brother and in this way come to an understanding of death and grieving. It is a tale of wonderful humour and pathos. Two Weeks with the Queen 1

2 Teacher s Notes The play Two Weeks with the Queen can be enjoyed and appreciated without preparation by you with your class. However, these notes are provided for you if you wish to use this play to enhance the theatre experience for your students. Many of the exercises and questions may be completed in as much or as little detail as you feel is valuable or worthwhile. The notes are organised as Preplay and Replay programs. Several questions from the Preplay section could be reviewed for contrasts in students viewpoints; as their views may either change or develop with their understanding of the issues examined by the play through having seen the performance as well as through your class consideration, discussion and research. Preplay Discussion: Dream and wishes. Consider the following questions: 1. Make a wish list. Write down five things that you have dreamed of having. 2. In small groups compare your wish lists. Make a note of those things that you had in common. What made these things special to the people in your group? 3. Write a list of those things that you already have that are important to you. 4. Once again, compare your list with the others in the group. Make a note of those wishes which you have in common. 5. Compare your wish list with the list of things that you already have that are important in your life. Would you trade anything from your list of what you already have with your wish list? Why? 6. Reconsider your answer to the first question, the wish list. Would you like to make any changes? Write briefly why you would or would not make any changes to your list. One of the themes of the play is the importance of relationships between people. 1. List as many relationships as you can. 2. How do relationships develop? 3. Which of these relationships are the most important to you? Why? 4. What makes some relationships last longer than others? 5. Compare your list with those of at least two other people in your class. How similar were your answers to the last question? 6. Are the strongest relationships and most enduring, those that exist between family members? Give reasons for your answer. Two Weeks with the Queen 2

3 Our behaviour towards others affects their lives. Consider the following questions: 1. When does our behaviour affect others? 2. Why does our behaviour affect others? 3. How does your behaviour affect others? 4. How have you affected another person s life today? 5. What does your behaviour reveal about you and your attitudes to others? Consider how you appear to others: if you rarely smile, always laugh, prefer to sit on your own, bully others and the many other signals that you give out every day whether you want to or not. Extension Discussion - Thinking more deeply about the play: There are many ways to assess the success of our lives. Some people may believe it is the amount of money or possessions you have, others might suggest it is the number of people that you may help, while still others may believe that it is the number of friends that you can make and keep. So much of who we are can be measured by how we treat others. 1. Do you treat every person with the same degree of respect? Why? 2. Do you expect other people to treat you with respect? Why? 3. Are there ever any acceptable reasons for treating people in a way that is different to how you expect to be treated yourself? Why? Additional Exercises: 1. Read the novel Two Weeks with the Queen. Use the character list for the play to write some brief notes about each of the major characters in the story and the purpose that each of the minor characters has in supporting the plot. 2. Read the setting as described for the play: The Mudford s home; hospital in Australia and London, the home of Colin s relations in London; outside Buckingham Palace; on a plane and at an airport in Sydney. A set for a play is not like a set created for a film. a. Do the sets need to be realistic? Give reasons for your answer. b. How could you make your set changes quick and efficient? c. How could you use lighting effects to create certain scenes? 3. The whole class can create an England collage. What are the most important images you think of when you think of England? Which images of England are used in the novel? Find any pictures, images and or words that makes the world that Colin enters that much clearer for you and the class to see and appreciate. 4. What do you find are the most enjoyable comedies? Do these comedies use humour which you hear and see? What other types of humour are used in these comedies that you enjoy? Try to explain the reasons for your preferences in humour. 5. As we age we are expected to be able to deal with the more difficult aspects of life. Perhaps the most difficult experience that the majority of people will have to Two Weeks with the Queen 3

4 deal with at some stage in their life, is the death of someone close to them. Discuss in groups or as a class: a When do you think that a person is old enough to deal with the issues of death? b Should adults protect the young from harsh experiences? Give reasons for your answer. c Are young people s thoughts and feeling about suffering as important as adults? Why? d What might be the effects on our lives if we live in fear of death? Research: 1. Find out as much as you can about the Queen and her role and position. Use a diagram to highlight the monarch s position in our political system. What is the Queen s relationship with her subjects? What does the term subject mean in this context? 2. What do you know about Cancer and Aids? Try to find out some of the more important points about both of these illnesses which have caused so much pain and suffering to so many people around the world. Replay Discussion: 1. Did you enjoy the play? Write a short list of points outlining what you liked and/or disliked about the performance. Did the other members of your class enjoy the play? Discuss the production as a group. What did you see as the strengths or weaknesses of the show? (You may wish to use this information to write a review of the play. See question 17.) 2. What was the funniest moment in the play? Briefly describe this moment in your journal. What made it so funny? You may wish to outline your answer to the class. Why does the story of the play use humour to look at issues which are so serious? Does the use of humour make the serious messages less clear or effective? Give reasons for your answers. 3. What was the saddest or most serious moment in the play? Briefly describe this moment in your journal. Try to explain what made this moment so sad and/or serious. 4. What feelings does Colin experience while he is away from his family in England? What does Colin learn about himself through this experience? What do other characters learn about Colin through this experience? 5. Who was your favourite character in the play? What was it about this character that made the play more interesting for you? Were there any particular qualities that the actor brought to the character s role that made the play more interesting or enjoyable? a How similar were Alistair and Colin s battles to be heard by adults? b How realistic and believable were the characters Ted and Griff? c How realistic and believable were the characters Iris, Bob and Alistair? d How realistic and believable was the character of Colin? Was Colin less or more believable than these other characters? e Discuss your answers to these questions in small groups and/or as a class. Two Weeks with the Queen 4

5 6. It has been stated that the play was written for a wider audience than the novel. Do you think that the play was directed to suit a particular aged audience? Give reason for your answer. 7. What ideas were used for the set design? Did you think that these were effective and clever? Give reasons for your answers. 8. Describe the variety of music that was composed for this production of the play. Did you think that the music was appropriate and effective? If the music is effective should you hear it or should it just be playing in the background? Give reasons for your answer. 9. Describe the costumes used by the performers. Were there any special qualities that you recognised in the style, material or colours used? Were any of the costumes made to suit particular characters? How was this done? Did these costumes work? 10. research confirmed that people believe the monarchy to be integral to British society. It was also highly critical. The royals were called not understanding at all about the needs of people, and were rapped for their conspicuous consumption and remoteness and rigidity of their upbringing and current lifestyle. As if the family were a laundry detergent, it was deemed poor value for money. (Time, September 7, 1998) a What is Colin s view of the Queen? What is his Uncle Bob s view of the royals? How do you know? b What is your view of the royals? c How similar are the views expressed by Colin and those expressed in the excerpt above? 11. Look carefully at the first chapter from the novel and the first scene from the play. Look at how the story and the characters are established in these opening moments. a Read each of the passages aloud. b What are the main differences that you notice between the novel and the play? c Are these important differences? d What are the qualities of the writing for each excerpt? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these styles? e Select another moment (of 2-3 pages) from the novel. In pairs or small groups write your own play script version of the moment that you have chosen. f What was easy and/or difficult in completing the last task? Why? 12. Consider the importance of the following lines from the play. What do they reveal about the themes or characters? a Doctor 2 Bit of a pain, eh? Bloke gets a bit ignored when his kid brother s in hospital. b Colin If it was somebody important they d pull their finger out all right. c Mum [Sharply] Don t talk about things you don t understand. d Businessman I know what it (cancer) is. I just don t particularly want to talk about it. e Colin [to Ted] A grown-up who isn t scared to say that word. f Alistair We re only kids. We re not supposed to make everything all right. Two Weeks with the Queen 5

6 g Nurse Some cope better than others. I think it s the families that make all the difference. h Alistair What makes you grown-ups so smart that you know what s best for everyone? Consider in your response the importance of certain words such as things and kids. How are certain word used to create emotions? Do the words cancer or Aids often create immediate feeling or attitudes for the person who hears these words? 13. Many of you would have seen advertisements on television promoting funding for cancer research. In one such advertisement a distraught mother is told by their doctor that her son has cancer. The mother seems suddenly relieved as the doctor passes over a bottle of pills that will rid the child of the symptoms and the disease in a matter of weeks. The punch-line for the ad is that it is this future that the research into cancer is working towards. Discuss the effectiveness of the message being conveyed to the television audience. How is the advertisement intended to work? Does it succeed? 14. Write your own letter to the Queen. Consider what favour(s) you need to ask her for and ensure that your request(s) sounds both honest and sincere. Place each person s letter in a box. Draw these letters at random from the box for another member of the class to respond to as either the Queen s secretary (and she would have several secretaries of various rank) or from the Queen herself. Post the letters and responses around the classroom. 15. Debate: That children don t understand That youth have it too easy. That youth is wasted on the young. 16. This is a play with a large number of characters (27 in all) but only six actors. (Theatre performers refer to this play as a six hander.) How well does the doubling of roles work in this play? 17. Review a performance of the play that you have attended. Use the reviews of previous productions provided in these notes as a guideline as to the style and approach that you might take to assess this production. Use your answers to some of the earlier questions to help you write your review. 18. List the similarities between this story and the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. What is the purpose of each of the stories? How is their purpose achieved through the main character entering another world so different to their normal world? What happens to these main characters when they return to the real world? Two Weeks with the Queen 6

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