The ‘public’ face of this most ancient of Salopian competitions is a short but intensive evening of recitations; but behind the scenes there lie weeks of preliminary heats as the halt, lame or less motivated are filtered out and the gold dust starts to glitter in the sifting pan.
In the Lower School, entry into the preliminary round is non-negotiable, and in an era when learning by rote is no longer part of educational orthodoxy this represents quite a challenge for many. In the upper years volunteers are invited, and they are seldom in short supply, such is the prestige this competition enjoys. The rules are simple: recite well a poem of at least sonnet (14 line) length, without too much waving about of the arms. Following an occasion several years ago when the Sixth Form prize was won by a very worthy young man who recited flawlessly a complete chapter of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, lasting 25 minutes, effectively beating the competition into submission, overlong contributions are discouraged.
This year’s judge was author, journalist and reviewer Philip Womack, whose light touch and engaging personality touched performers and audience alike. He selected, not without considerable difficulty, as very worthy winners:
- in the Third Form category, Caspian Cowan Taylor (Ch) (Refugee Blues by W H Auden)
- in the Fourth Form Oliver Lansdell (PH) (Ozymandias by Shelley) and Prince Rupert's Drop by Jane Draycott)
- in the Fifth Form Ed Carroll (Ch) (No 50 from In Memoriam (Tennyson))
- and in the intensely contested Sixth Form category, George Fowler (SH) (The Actor by Robert Service).
A great evening, with the popularity of this competition as high as ever.