Tag Archives: guild of students

GMTG presents: Spring Awakening @The Guild of Students

spring-awakening

On 29th November 2013, I went to see Jake Dorrell’s interpretation of Spring Awakening, set in oppressive 19th Century Germany. Dubbed one of the most ‘controversial’ plays of its time, the original play was banned in Germany for addressing the devastating consequences of exploring the ‘mysteries of your body’ in a society that denied its youth any insight into precisely that.

Having never really been exposed to the genre of a ‘serious’ musical, I went in with fairly naive impressions. I considered the likelihood of mild peril, perhaps even the possibility of a little trouble and strife, but I did not question the ending. Surely every musical has a happy ending…right?  Wrong.

This was not a musical for the faint-hearted. The play centred on adolescent suicide, the consequences of premarital sex and homosexuality. All of these would have been taboo topics, therefore one can appreciate how daring Sater’s musical would have been at the time it was originally written.

The harrowing consequences of pubescent curiosity were extremely hard hitting, and personally I felt as though they were portrayed admirably, with each actor allowing the audience a brief yet consuming insight into their lives.

The performances were undoubtedly enhanced by the personal stories that had been offered up to cast members in rehearsals, who had the unique insights given to them by working closely with the LGBTQ society. This added another dimension to the performances, which came across as even more impressive when presented as a direct juxtaposition to the surrealism which consumed the performance.

When the musical began I felt as though I had been thrust into Tim Burton’s imagination.

The surrealist set design and costume were reminiscent of Berkoff’s The Trial, and complemented the cast perfectly in their mono-chromic attire and ghoul-like stage make-up. The quirky costume design, by Maysie Chandler, inspired visions of innocence through the younger characters and images of corrupted authority through the exaggerated shoulders of Headmaster Knochenbruch.

In saying this, it must be noted that the messages conveyed within the show maintained the focal point for the duration of the performance, which is an impressive feat when considered alongside two projection screens with elaborate videos of memories/eerie projections of the deceased, a live band performing backstage and a cast of twenty actors!

The only slight criticism I will (reluctantly) offer is that of the use of hand-held microphones. I fully appreciate that this aspect of the show is minimal (!) and was probably due to limitations of being at University and not having access to a variety of resources, however I feel as though it slightly stunted the transition from scene to song; and would have helped the musical’s fluidity.

All in all, the show was an impressive piece of theatre. It was evident that everyone involved had invested an awful lot of time and effort into making each performance immaculate, and it was fully appreciated by all audience members, me especially.

Hayley Yates

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Infinity Stage Company Present: Mercury Fur @ The Guild of Students

mercury furHaving seen more than my fair share of plays, whether they are professional or student productions, I judge the quality of a show by how quickly I want to write my review after it (even if I’m not technically reviewing). It’s 11.18 pm and I finished watching Mercury Fur about an hour ago. I probably would have sat down sooner if I wasn’t physically shaking.

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur has a history of controversy: famously banned by Faber & Faber, this play follows a set of closely intertwined characters in an almost-apocalyptic world in which butterflies are drugs and ‘party’ is synonymous with your darkest fantasies. The characters spew lines of racist slurs, beat each other and themselves, and draw the audience into their intense relationships.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting scripts I have witnessed. The characters are so distinct (with the intentional exception of the Party Piece) and complex, each simultaneously lost in a state almost akin to childhood, and sadistic. Ridley is able to showcase his prowess by writing Elliot’s insults as epic similes; this is highlighted by his ability to then undercut this often satirical and humorous style with a conversation wrought with emotion.

 I am extremely passionate about ‘in-yer-face’ theatre: Ravenhill’s and Kane’s plays are on my shelves, and yet I have unfortunately not been able to see them performed. To call a text ‘in-yer-face’ seems to miss the point, I have realised after tonight’s Mercury Fur. What makes it so disturbing, so violating, is actually being in the presence of it.

Director Jacob Lovick absolutely understood the importance of this. Staged in the basement rehearsal room of the Guild, the audience was instantly removed from the student bubble and into a dingy flat strewn with the signs of depleting life. The play utilised the whole space, creating a sense of claustrophobia: the characters moved around the audience, absorbing them into the world of the play. The lack of interval was also a nice touch (a la Shopping and F***ing): there was no escape from the unrelenting emotions.

 It really does take a stellar cast to pull off a play like this: get it slightly wrong, and the uncomfortableness you’re trying to create will be plain awkward. This cast not only succeeded in making me cry a grand total of three times (which is quite a feat; I’ve only ever cried at five films and maybe one play), but made me feel physically uncomfortable: I couldn’t sit back in my chair, I wanted to escape and stay simultaneously, my skin was crawling and I was shaking at the end of the performance.

 I was utterly astounded by the quality of the acting in this production; not only did I forget that I was watching a play in the Guild, I forgot that I was watching students act. Calum Witney was by far the stand-out member of this cast. His accent and ability to master Elliot’s swings of emotion was phenomenal. Ben Firth also made an excellent Darren: he was able to capture his naivety and pure adoration of Elliot. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Witney and Firth; I truly believed in their bond as brothers, not only through Ridley’s writing, but the actors’ execution of it.

When Naz was introduced into the mix, I instantly prickled: Ridley introduces a character that is quite frankly annoying. However, Alice Hodgson made her loveable. I felt sincere concern for the character, and was utterly horrified when I realised her fate. Additionally, Hodgson’s performance of Naz’s monologues and her character post-torture were incredibly convincing and very distressing to watch.

David Williams was a genius choice for Lola. The text calls for a man to play this part, but at times Williams’s mannerisms and expressions were so convincing I almost forgot his sex. The chemistry between Witney and Williams was also entirely believable, and I found the scenes between the characters incredibly touching.

Daisy Tudor was fantastic as The Duchess, deftly exploring her character’s tortured mental state through carefully selected movements and delivery of lines. Pairing her with Danny Hetherington as Spinx was also a brilliant move: while I was oddly intrigued by and pitying of The Duchess, Spinx’s devotion to her was unsettling, and Hetherington’s ability to switch into Spinx’s sadistic mode was excellent. Jack Fairley still made an impression with his minor role: the Party Guest was utterly creepy and disgusting from the moment he stepped into the room, let alone when he revealed his dark fantasy.

The crew of this production must also be praised highly: the effects and make-up used in the play were very convincing; I felt entirely immersed in the world of Mercury Fur.

The point of in-yer-face theatre is to push its audience to the very limits. There were points during the performance where I really wanted to leave but was oddly impelled to stay. What I struggled with was my desire to stop it – I really did feel like it was all unfolding around me – and also the range of emotions I experienced: at one moment I would be disturbed and sickened; a matter of seconds later, I would be laughing, and I felt incredibly unnerved  by this. This is why I love plays like Mercury Fur: at the end, I feel like someone has reached inside my body, pulled something out and made me really look at it. With in-yer-face theatre, the audience is made to look at themselves and assess how they would act in certain situations or evaluate their behaviour and emotions. There is betrayal at every level in this play, sadism, cruelty, anger, and love. It is a truly exceptional example of postmodern nihilism and an intense exploration of the human state, and I (strangely) loved every minute of it.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Infinity presents Blue/Orange @ Guild of Students

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This being my first time attending a play at the Guild of Students, Blue/Orange directed by Georgia House and performed by the Infinity stage company was a moving and at times harrowing introduction to the University’s drama sphere. Winner of the 2011 Laurence Olivier award for best new play, Blue/Orange is written by English dramatist Joe Penhall. It follows Christopher, an NHS patient diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. The play does not shy away from challenging and highly topical issues, touching on the uncomfortable ideas of racism, mental illness and the evident shortcomings within the NHS.

The set in act one, a very basic consultation room, appears to reflect the starkness and the inhospitable (somewhat ironically) nature of the NHS. This combined with the actors’ proximity to the audience, especially those sat in the front row, allowed almost uncomfortable levels of intimacy and insight into the shocking conversations and events unfolding within the play. A wider variety of scenery throughout the play may have made it more aesthetically engaging. Although the continuous use of the bare consultation room, enabled the audience to focus solely on the dialogue of the actors which I feel was the essence of the play itself.

For me, Christopher played by Jamal Hue-Bonner, made the play what it was. His convincing portrayal of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder and his overt vulnerability was intensely poignant. His vibrancy and charisma on stage as Christopher made him likable; relatable and yet enigmatic in equal measures, especially in terms of his questionable parenthood.   

Jamal’s performance as Christopher truly hit home the play’s moral message, forcing the controversial issues into the limelight with the sole focus on one individual’s mistreatment and experience. This gave the audience the chance to feel sympathy towards Christopher on an issue they could otherwise disassociate themselves from. Consultant Dr. Robert Smith played by Ciaran Creswell, I found inhabited and epitomised the role of the conservative upper-middle-class medical professional with ease. He portrayed perfectly his obvious detachment and lack of understanding of the very real problems faced by real members of society. He personified brilliantly the controversy within the NHS system by his disturbing willingness to sacrifice standard of care for cost-benefit.

Dr. Bruce Flaherty played by Ben Norris offered a stark contrast to Ciaran Creswell’s character. He made his frequent frustration and evident disapproval of Dr. Robert Smith’s unfavourable demeanour believable and tangible to the audience, almost to the point where I wanted to stand up and argue alongside him. In an otherwise hopeless situation, the character of Dr. Bruce Flaherty brought to life the plausible possibility of a new generation of medical professionals fighting against the ever-present controversy.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Blue/Orange, I would recommend to anyone to discover what the University has to offer in terms of theatre far sooner than I did. I’ll be making sure to keep a definite eye out for what the University’s drama societies are doing next.

By Elin Morris

The News from Holsam @ The Guild of Students

72680_496874040369677_918888061_nThe News from Holsam, is a new macabre sketch show based on a concept by comedy trio Richard Higgs, Chaz Redhead, and Alice Kennedy, A.K.A. ‘Menage a Trois.’ This week, there has been a growing mystique surrounding the show; its debut, peppered with creepy teaser trailers which can be found on the ‘Visit Holsam’ Facebook page set the tone for the show whilst keeping stubbornly ambiguous about any plot or characters.

A vague backwater town somewhere in the American south, ‘Holsam’ and its disturbed inhabitants are the backdrop for this inventive comedy sketch show, executed brilliantly using film, sound, and lighting (as well as lots of blood) to embellish the morbid world they have created. It is among the blackest of comedies: full of nasty shocks, often with an excitingly malevolent attitude to its audience; to spoil any specifics of the sketches would be to do the show a disservice. The potentially problematic high-concept works brilliantly and the sketches and performances are consistently hilarious.

Despite the gruesome horror exterior, the dominant feeling from the performance is, surprisingly, refreshing. Ultimately, this is due to the distinct lack of irony. There are very few nods, winks or relevant 21st Century cultural references in it – something a lot of the comedy relies on far too heavily, perhaps at the expense of charm or personality. Instead, Holsam’s jokes are driven by the characters, situations, puns and wordplay. The audience also appeared uncomfortable with a surprising amount of slapstick right from the start.

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This is classic, ‘old-school’ sketch comedy by people who clearly love and understand the genre. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially with the added sting in its tail of murder, blood, Satanists and the omnipresent menace of ‘The Bleeding Man.’ To make a comparison, one could say it has its roots in things like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and certainly The League of Gentlemen. The town of Holsam essentially functions in the sketches in the same way Royston Vasey did in The League. However, the charm and childishness of the sketches should not be underplayed. There is a pinch of Horrible Histories in The News from Holsam that adds an unexpectedly playful, whimsical edge amongst all the violence and screaming of its black vignettes.

45701_10152570435400103_1032656385_nAs many have come to expect from this cast, the performances were brilliant. James Dolton, Alexandra Martino and Leo West deftly turn into many hilarious characters, all played with an exhausting amount of energy. Particularly impressive was how each member alternated between variations of accents around Bible-Belt USA, depending on which character they were playing. An especially enjoyable voice was Chaz Redhead’s attorney of law (and moonlighting exorcist) character Joseph Goldenstein. Played with a nasal 1930’s ‘Talkie’ speed and corky pronunciations; for example, ‘commercial’ becoming ‘com-er-she-al.’ Yet they had the self-awareness to call attention to how ridiculous it was they were performing in accents. In one of the  brilliant moments early on, when the audience had just about adjusted their ears to Yanky drawls, Richard Higgs came on with his unmistakable brummy-brogue clash completely without explanation. The characters are excellent too: recognisable archetypes are twisted and mangled, making the cliques dark and monstrous, for instance Alice Kennedy’s pie cooking ‘Southern-Belle’ Mayor we meet initially becomes… well I won’t spoil it.

The News from Holsam is clearly a labour of love and bursting with ideas, playfulness, comedy and horror. It chases all its macabre whimsies to their logical, grizzly conclusions and hopefully this nasty little show will return for a longer run. It is truly exciting and effervescing with cadaverous, messed up ideas.

James Grady

@James_Grady