first night


Adam Simpson takes a trip down memory lane with this year's Freshers' Play.

Being involved in The Freshers’ Play is undeniably one of the biggest challenges a first year faces in Durham Student Theatre. A director usually tackles a play they are unfamiliar with, a production team must adapt to a completely new environment, and actors are faced with balancing intense rehearsal schedules with their new life at university. Thus, like many Freshers’ Plays in the past, it is unsurprising that this year’s production of Bill Naughton’s Alfie was affected by such factors. However, what director Hetty Hodgson and her team have managed to present is a showcase of new talent in Durham, which is exactly what this production should strive for.

Two immediate standouts were Emma Broadhurst as Annie and Sarah Cameron as Lily. Broadhurst was very convincing in delivering the struggles of her character and it was a deep shame that she wasn’t on stage for longer. Cameron portrayed a complex character, facing difficult situations in both acts, and her performance was very moving at times. She was also very successful in delivering lines that did not match the true motivations of her character; something that is difficult to achieve when only appearing in a limited number of scenes. Damson Young gave a solid performance as Gilda and showed pleasant comic timing in her first scene, but she should be wary of appearing slightly over the top during her emotional outbursts. While Mally Capstick was very confident in her portrayal of Ruby, her performance in general felt rather forced and exaggerated, which jarred with the mood on stage. That said, her acting ability was clear to see in the moments when she brought down the tone of her performance, which proves that her ability just happened to be misused on this occasion.

And now, onto the boys. Ned Campbell was challenged with the titular role of Alfie; a huge undertaking as he barely seemed to leave the stage. His confidence on stage never wavered, the slimy nature of his character was conveyed effectively and his ability to learn a huge amount of lines in such a small time period is admirable. However, it is unfortunate that his performance often suffered. If his decision to deliver almost every line in the same tone was an artistic reflection of Alfie’s inability to develop and change, then he and the director were deeply misguided. In fact, his performance became rather jarring as a result, hazarding any natural build of tension in the play, and it was frustrating to watch as an audience member. Given that his character had so many comical lines, it suggests that this was not an intentional decision, as so many jokes were lost throughout. Campbell was often almost inaudible on stage (something that most in the cast were guilty of), and I would strongly urge him to show more variety in his delivery of soliloquies compared to his interaction with other characters. Despite this, Campbell’s ease on stage was very exciting to watch and I do look forward to seeing him perform in the future. Other actors worth mentioning are Sebastian Higgins, playing Joe, who delivered his lines with gorgeous diction. Andrew Cowburn also seemed very natural as one of the softest characters in the play.

The set and layout of the stage was very aesthetically pleasing when compared to other Assembly Rooms shows. Partially lowering the front of the stage was a pleasant touch, though it didn’t seem to be used for any real purpose. While this is not a major issue, an alternative use—such as staging Campbell’s soliloquies on it—may have made its presence slightly less obscure. However, director Hetty Hodgson must be complimented for her sophisticated blocking, which remained very fluid and thought through. This is something that can be overlooked, but it is undeniably one of the most difficult tasks faced by a director, especially when being unfamiliar with the stage space. For next time, my main recommendation for Hodgson would be to focus more tightly on characterisation and to pay closer attention to the motivations behind every line. Yet, she deserves great admiration for her work on this project and for creating a production that was, on the whole, very tight and clean, despite a couple of first night errors.

I can only congratulate producers Laura Hepworth and Sophie Washington-Sare for their extremely effective online promotion and for sourcing all of the costumes and set. To have 150 audience members on a first night proves their success on the promotional side, and any production with their involvement is clearly going to be in safe hands. Being involved in The Freshers’ Play is always difficult and, despite the stress it causes and the criticisms that can be taken from it, I hope everyone involved in this show continues to remain a part of Durham Student Theatre. It really does only get easier and everyone on stage in the opening night of Alfie showed promise in some way, and I look forward to seeing them in shows to come.

25 November 2016

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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