STAR-STRUCK students at The King's School Chester have enjoyed their big screen debut after appearing in four short films of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Rather than simply record the planned stage production of the CS Lewis classic, the drama department pledged to film, edit and produce four stand-alone short films, complete with soundtrack and special effects.

For head of drama, Clare Howdon, there was never any doubt that the show would go on.

She said: “The production is the highlight of the year for the drama department so I was determined to find a way to make it happen.

“I was reluctant to simply film a staged production with no live audience so, with the help of our amazing theatre technician Stuart Mannix, we made the rather brave decision to produce it as a film!”

The Drama department had been planning the for many months and, at the beginning of the year, they were optimistic that they’d be able to put on a live production.

Careful plans were made for four separate performances with four year group casts to keep pupils in their “bubbles” and ensure that no one would miss out on the chance to perform.

However, when the second national lockdown was imposed in January and rehearsals were cancelled before they had properly begun, the plans were thrown into doubt and the department faced a choice; scrap the production altogether or find another way.

Rehearsals began remotely on Teams during the lockdown period, and staff got to work putting together filming schedules that adhered to social distancing guidelines. That meant that filming could begin as soon as school was open again.

Mrs Howdon was impressed with how pupils approached the new way of working.

She said: “Making a film is a very different process to staging a production and it was a steep learning curve for all of us but the pupils embraced the challenge with such enthusiasm and commitment, I knew that it was going to be a huge success. We all felt the excitement when the cameras started rolling, and the novelty of the clapper board never wore off!”

The production team allowed four days for filming over two weekends in March. Film sets were built in the Vanbrugh Theatre, but they also did some “on location” filming outdoors and in other areas of the school, which all added to the production.

When the filming was over, the hard work really began and Mrs Howdon has nothing but praise for Mr Mannix: “He is the real hero! He sifted through hours of footage, which included up to 20 takes for some scenes, and spent more than a month editing the four films. He even found time to produce a bloopers reel and a behind-the-scenes film.”

When the hard work was done, the drama department invited the students to their very own red-carpet premieres.

Mrs Howden added: “Keeping in the year group bubbles, we organised four separate red-carpet events for the pupils. The excitement was palpable and it was wonderful to see them dressed up and enjoying their moment in the spotlight after all their hard work”.

Headmaster George Hartley was also involved the films, making a cameo appearance as the grown-up Edmund.

He said: “This entire project was a fantastic example of the ‘show must go on’ spirit that has been demonstrated over and over again at King’s this year. It was a superb team effort from pupils and staff.

“I would like to congratulate everyone involved for the fortitude and determination they’ve demonstrated in striving for something so ambitious and pulling it off in such spectacular style.”