Drama Fest 2016

The way the world works breaks by Tom Merson & Victoria Kaye

Religion and theatre have gone together like a good cheese and a great wine, throughout large parts of modern history. With tales of resurrection, bloodshed and questions of our place in the world, being portrayed on stage throughout history, NUTS’ The way the world works breaks the established narrative of religion and theatre, to deliver a truly unique product.

With heaven being represented as a typical office, a delightfully post-modern God, has his job on the line against a female Lucifer, Lucy, for control over humanity. Frustrated by his inability to cure humanity of its vices and self-destruction, God sends Jesus, disguised as a janitor to the office departments of heaven in order to heal humanity.

What unfolds, is an utterly clever and comical representation of Jesus and his journey, in a modern context. The contrast created between God and his administrative subjects, mirrors humanity’s constantly evolving relationship with a higher power, their apathy and their preoccupation with the mundane. Such a dynamic is delightfully played up in Jesus’ unfolding reactions with the staff.

The comic interplays both staff and messiah are perhaps underscored brilliantly by the staffs’ frightening ignorance of the simplicity of Jesus’ message and their failure to recognize him for who he is.

The plays only downfall perhaps lies in the portrayal of the female devil, who for now fault of her acting ability, serves only to halt the plot with her frivolous, yet timid desire to establish her rule over humanity.

The way the world works uses intelligent plot devices and clever humour to re-assess our relationship with religion and a higher power in a manner that intends to inform and entertain brilliantly.

Review by Ritwik Sarkar 

Good Taste by Aidan Clancy & Joe Hodgson

Exploring the wacky world of online dating, Good Taste is a delightfully tacky presentation of all the wacky ups and downs of online dating.

Centred on the female character Rose, the play revolves around her experiences on three different blind dates.

A delusional magician, a vampire and a man of peculiar sexuality all lend themselves brilliantly to the tragic-comic nature of the production, as each over-the-top portrayal keeps the narrative of the story flowing well.

The wacky performances of the performances of the male supporting actors is delightfully underscored by performance of the Rose who goes along with the increasing intensity of unbearable shenanigans, without losing herself in the cacophony of the awkward interchanges.

While stale in parts, the play’s sucker punch of a twist, proves how a meticulous build up can seem all the more impressive when ended of a crescendo of a dynamic swerve. The tragic element of the plot, bring to the fore our own struggles with loneliness, the need to seek companionship and an understated desire to find the good in people, no matter how out-of-sorts they seem.

NUTS’ Good Taste ticks all the checkboxes of what can be considered a good comedic production. While the over-the-top personality portrayals might seem a tad repetitive and tacky to some, their use as human objects to elevate a seemingly simple plot, add to the subtle wonder of the play.

The production managed to elicit a plethora of emotions throughout it’s run time and posed some key thoughts that would’ve caused many an audience member to introspect, and in doing so leave the audience engaged beyond the play’s completion.

Review by Ritwik Sarkar 

Dot by Hannah Jayne Leek

On Tuesday 3rd May, the first night of Newcastle University Theatre Society’s Dramafest took place. This is two day event where students showcase their own work. Three plays were performed on the first night Dot, Welcome to Camp Camp and, following last year’s success, Durham theatre society’s Small Hours.

Dot, written and directed by Hannah Jayne Leek, is based on the true story of her Great-Grandmother’s life. Set in 1950’s Scunthorpe, Dorothy, Dot, hopes to be reunited with her younger brother. However, this is not something her uncle, who raised her, is keen on. Her Uncle is a drunk, who is violent towards both Dot and her Aunt. He believes the boy is responsible for the death of his mother, the sister to his wife, whom he loved. His temper and violence prevents Dot from going to get her brother as she is scared of what he might do.

Meanwhile, Dot falls in love with George, whom she meets at her job singing in a bar. He hates how she lives in fear of Uncle and persuades her to marry him. The couple are on the way to fetch the child when George is taken ill and rushed to hospital. The play ends with Dot reunited with her brother, but losing her husband. This creates an ending that sticks with the audience, after the play has ended.

The story is at once heart-warming and heart-breaking, you would not know this was Hannah’s debut as a writer/director for NUTS and I hope she is very proud of what she achieved. She manages to portray love and loss with equal clarity. This was a brilliant play to open Dramafest with and I hope she continues to write.

There were wonderful performances from Flora Squires and Max Fosh as Dot and George.  Their singing was particularly good and helped set the scene for the play. Also, well done to Max who performed whilst injured. Other notable performances were from James Howlett and Emily Turnbull as Dot’s Uncle and Aunt. Howlett, in particular, was a surprise as this performance was a huge change of tone to his other parts this year and he handled it very well.

Review by Kathryn Norton

Jigsaw by Lucy Sherratt

Lucy Sherratt’s Jigsaw provided a contrasting tone and absorbing juxtaposition to the previous comic performance. Despite tackling the challenging subject of mental illness, the play was approached with a great deal of sensitivity and integrity. From the opening lines the audience fell silent and enthralled as the patients embarked on the tough journey of divulging their suppressed fears and inadequacies.

The naturalistic acting style allowed sophisticated characterisation from the four actors playing the patients, and their polished monologues with strong vocal musicality shaped a nuanced portrayal of their anxious and erratic personalities. The poignant dialogue was also remarkable in reflecting their struggles with inner torment. The atmosphere of pathos was often unexpectedly punctured with comic interjections, to temporary dispel the emotional intensity such as the candid line ‘’I think I’m gay’’, or the irony of a self-confessed liar narrating ridiculous anecdotes. Sherratt cleverly toyed with the audience’s emotions with the balance of humorous lines and profound confessions. The setting was fascinating as whilst the psychotherapist was positioned from the audience’s perspective, a single spotlight lit the patients one by one, which turned the large auditorium space into an intimate atmosphere.      

The small stage worked to the cast’s advantage as the minimalistic set and plain costumes drew attention to the characters’ revelations. Sherratt’s tightly-structured dialogue elicited one’s sympathy and close engagement as not a word in the script was futile. Standout moments included the palpable tension of seeing tears in the eyes of a young man, angry and exasperated as he huddled into a chair, or the girl overwhelmed when she described the roots of her illness; both characters haunted by their imperfections. The audience’s attention was also retained with sudden pace changes from slow dialogue to explosive violence or angst. ‘Jigsaw’s unsettling effect was also testimony to its original stylistic elements, such as the patients’ synchronised answering to their therapist, and their internal voices projected in the theatre; which was reminiscent of Brechtian style. ‘Jigsaw’ was met with great success as it resonated on a raw emotional level, and its resilient actors movingly captured the fragility and frustration of mental illness. The audience was left stunned by the ambitious piece.

Review by Eleanor Benson

Spoon-Feeders by Patrick Watson

The preview of Spoon-Feeders depicted a somewhat futuristic world, where voice actors in an office record news interviews, which was met with a vibrant and responsive audience from the onset. The director and writer Patrick Watson used the intriguing script to shed light on and question the nature of media, and its capacity to manipulate verity with misleading information; and spoon-feeding society.

Integral to the performance’s success was its dynamic, energetic characterisation of the full cast who threw themselves into their characters. The selections of very strong leads were particularly impressive as they commanded the stage with confidence, projection and notable sense of poise. For me a standout character was Maximilian, who offered a convincing and measured performance of the authoritative company boss, of whom the audience could not take their eyes off as he asserted his control and striking presence in commanding the full stage space.     

The mixture of occasional rather melodramatic physicality and witty dialogue executed by skilled comedic timing had the audience roaring with laughter such the charismatic Felicity’s blatantly ironic line ‘’I’m not posh’’.        

Watson’s moments of humour carefully placed in the script were balanced however with rather profound reflections and thought-provoking themes about the existence and nature of truth, and the role of media in broadcasting only the public’s interests. The performance was mostly very slick and assured, and the one unfortunate technical mishap with a stage prop was dealt with very skilfully, and only contributed positively to the audience’s enjoyment and engagement with the piece. As the lights dimmed on the final freeze frame of Felicity just about to record an interview, the audience was left wanting more from this modern and provocative drama. The short snapshot of ‘Spoon-Feeders’ displayed an effective and hard-hitting mixture of comedy and complex socio-political themes, which was executed through inventive scriptwriting and thoughtful acting. Watson’s preview delivered an entertaining conclusion to the NUTS Drama Festival and promises an intriguing and original work for the Edinburgh Fringe.

Review by Eleanor Benson 

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