On the second day, the supply teacher announced to us: “Today children we will be putting our Maths and English and History to one side and we are going to spend the whole day working on putting on a play. What do you think of that?” We all cheered. One girl raised her hand to ask a question. He nodded. “Will our parents be allowed to come and see it?” He clapped his hands. “No, and I’ll tell you why-“ he lowered his voice “-this is a secret play. We’ll learn it this morning and perform it this afternoon and then we’ll all go home and we won’t breathe a word of it to anyone.” We – being children who liked secrets – were all excited. This was going to be a good day. “What play is it?” someone asked. “It is a play that I wrote last night, especially for you to perform today. It is called ‘Hamlet’!” He announced the title with a proud flourish.
We were set to work making props and costumes whilst the supply teacher paced around the room, shouting out the lines so that we could learn them as we worked. I spent the morning making a papier mache skull and then made plasticine worms and maggots which I put crawling around the inky hollows of the skull’s papery eye sockets. Mid-morning, he appeared at my shoulder. “Tell me, is this more fun than the work you do with Mr Thompson?” “Yeah,” I beamed. The supply teacher beamed back at me. At lunchtime he sat at his desk and read over his play again and again, catching the crumbs from his sandwich in his hat. He was an interesting figure – he didn’t look like any of the other teachers we had had before. When the kids in the other classes asked what he was like, we said he was ok. But none of us mentioned Hamlet.