first night

Durham Drama Festival - The Black Box

Anna Jeary enjoys an evening in DDF's black box


Review – Whistles


In a dystopian future a group of schoolchildren, Isabel and her friends, meet every day in the woods to play until one of them tackles the ultimate taboo and climbs the forbidden 'ridge' to see what is on the other side. There he discovers the shocking truth about the 'adolescent gardens', the place all young adults are sent before being able to graduate into civilised society. Hamish Clayton's script works this interesting premise very well, if at times the children's dialogue was a little unconvincing, and Rex's later, cryptic monologues seemed superfluous and indulgent.


Creative direction helped bring the piece to life; particular highlights include the staging of Isabel's dreams and the extremely effective final tableau. However, the repeating motif of the entire cast 'swirling' around the stage lost its impact after the first scene change and quickly became a drag, detracting from the more convincing physical moments later on.


Beatrice Vincent and John Halstead worked well as the eerily brainwashed parent figures, the malevolence undercutting their scenes building through their repetitive speech, actions and intense stares. Lydia Feerick was impressive as the young, courageous Isabel and credit must go to the skilled and imaginative technical design in transforming a minimalist black box set with light, sound and torches. The tension was built splendidly towards the dramatic conclusion leaving the audience moved, maybe a little perplexed, but all in all having enjoyed a provoking piece of theatre.



Review – Congestion


In this striking verbatim piece from interviews with Durham students, Ellie Gauge explores the ever contentious issues of gender and identity with integrity and humour. The gender-swap of roles, a simple idea, was extremely well executed and complemented by the opening costume of gender non-specific clothing: tracksuits and hoodies.


With frank and honest delivery the talented cast perform, in a way, our own words back to us, highlighting the similarities and differences in how men and women approach issues such as sex, drinking, life goals and that 'f-word – feminism'. With topics such as these, a verbatim script using six characters can never speak for everyone and it was well put together to maintain both a balance in views, and a light-hearted awareness.


Gauge's compelling direction injected the text with movement, skilfully highlighting moments of significance. The a cappella singing, although somewhat a cliché, helped maintain pace and the song choices (for instance, the infamous 'Blurred Lines') elicited a number of wry smiles and outright titters from the audience.


There was not a single weak performance amongst the company although special mention must be given to the male actors who succeeded in playing female characters without ever slipping into a pastiche of femininity and also to Luke McCormack for his stunning delivery of a difficult monologue describing sexual attack.


Not only is this a very accomplished piece, but it is a very important piece of theatre to be happening in Durham, offering a new take on the issues both under-debated and familiar. Beyond the Durham bubble, however, this type of theatre, its style and process, is in abundance and I would like to challenge the team to discover what this production could offer to an already deafening discussion?



Review – Winston


An apocalyptic scenario as the asteroid 'Winston' hurtles towards earth, may not immediately scream 'comedy' but Caitlin McEwan's intelligent, witty and refreshingly human script begs to differ.


As the lights come up on his apartment Tom (the ever impressive Harvey Comerford) slouches on his sofa, cracking open another Bière D'Or while his girlfriend Amy (the gifted Elissa Churchill) rushes around preparing for their 'end of the world' party. Unfortunately, the only guests to come are Wimp, Tom's feeble and clueless work friend (played by Dominic McGovern with a brilliant blend of comic timing and apt pathos) and Clara, Amy's estranged pop-starlet sister (another comic role from Sarah Slimani).


The characters are at once wonderfully real, and rather unlikeable; with strong performances from the whole cast and brilliantly humorous dialogue at their disposal, the show enters into an effortless and energetic first half which had the audience roaring with laughter.


As time wore on, however, the authority in Izzy Osbourne's direction, the pace and the timing all disjointed somewhat, rendering the climax a little underwhelming. This may have been the result of first night hiccups or something else, but the talent evident in the entire company means there is surely the potential to match that initial standard.


As the group play cards, awaiting their fate, we are all left with uncertainty, a trademark of the human condition, and the experience of a thoroughly enjoyable production.

7 February 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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