The final year at Warwick Academy is notorious for its heavy workload. Students sometimes average three hours of studying a night, there are essays to write and extracurricular activities to keep up with.
But when 17-year-old Ben Barnett was offered not one, but two lead roles in the school’s production of Our House, he snatched them up, despite the extra work involved.
“I always wanted to end my drama career at Warwick Academy on a bang,” said the 17-year old. “I got the role of Joe Casey, a 16-year-old in Camden, London. Because it was a large role, my character was split into Good Joe and Bad Joe.”
In the story, Joe breaks into a housing development to impress a girl. When the cops come, Joe’s life splits into two; the Good Joe who stays and gives himself up and the Bad Joe who flees leaving his girlfriend behind.
“The boy who was supposed to play Bad Joe got into drama school and left Warwick Academy,” said Ben. “Before he went he gave me Bad Joe, saying he couldn’t think of anyone else to take on the role. And there wasn’t a big turnout of boys for the play.”
At first, his parents, Philip and Melanie Barnett, were less than thrilled.
“My mother wanted me to give back the second role,” said Ben. “She was worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the extra work on top of everything else I had to do.”
In the end he compromised, telling his drama teacher he would take on the second role, but if it got to be too much he would have to give it back.
Mr Barnett never did give Bad Joe back, but there were times in the months leading up to curtain call on November 29, that he questioned his decision.
“It did get a little stressful,” he said. “There were times when I wondered how I could get everything done.”
His mother turned out to be his best ally.
“She’s better at organising than I am,” said Ben. “We sat down and made a plan of when I needed to do everything. I was assigned the role last June before school ended, so knowing I had that coming up, I tried to get a head start on some of my school work over the summer.”
It was not until after opening night that he thought it was all worth it.
“It was great,” he said. “There were a few mishaps, like a missed line here or there, but everyone in the play is really good. We just went on with it.”
He first got into acting when he was 12.
“I was one of Fagan’s boys in Oliver!,” said Mr Barnett. “People laughed at what I was doing and that was a real affirmation for me.”
He continued with acting at school. He was in Warwick Academy’s last five productions often taking on lead roles such as Bugsy in Bugsy Malone.
“I love performing,” he said. “I enjoy dramatic productions more than musicals. There was quite a lot of singing in Our House. I’m quite hoarse right now from it.
“With every production I do I feel I am getting better. Every time I take on a role, I learn more about drama and also about myself.
“If I am acting as a certain character I take away things. Like shortly before curtain went up I was really getting into my role as Joe. I started calling everyone else in the cast by their names in the play. That was funny.”
Ben is not one to sit at home and learn lines. He prefers to do it in rehearsal with the cast.
“That way you say a line in response to the way the other characters said their lines,” he said. “I also like to get the direction of the drama teacher.”
But as much as he loves drama, he plans to go into science.
“I’m applying for chemical engineering programmes in Canada,” he said. “I love the sciences and I love the curiosity and the questions you are able to ask and how they interlink with each other.
“I feel I want to get a degree under my belt before I start to pursue acting.
“I love it, and wouldn’t willingly give it up, but I’ve heard it is a very hard career path to go along.”