theatre

Why do we do it? The purpose of student theatre

Why do we do it? The purpose of student theatre
Any poor soul who has tried to coordinate their cast and crew’s timetables will, through the haze of google docs and doodle polls, almost definitely have screamed, ‘WHY?!’ Between this ‘non-negotiable’ class and that ‘compulsory’ lecture, we might start to think that putting on a play was nearly impossible at university. Yet, each term, tens of productions make their mark on the Oxford University drama scene. From exciting new writing projects at the Burton Taylor Studio to phenomenal musical spectacles at the Playhouse, there is a wealth of determination among the student body. We are ready to juggle degrees with funding meetings and forgo Bridge for late night rehearsals, but why?

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Drama School, Rehearsals and What’s next for Phoebe Fox

Drama School, Rehearsals and What’s next for Phoebe Fox
If you haven’t heard of Phoebe Fox already, you are guaranteed to be hearing a lot about her soon. Gracing our cinema screens this year, Phoebe Fox will be starring in The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, the sequel to the adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ novel, featuring Daniel Radcliffe. On the stage side of things, Phoebe has played Lear’s Cordelia at the Almeida opposite Jonathan Pryce, and has worked at both the Royal Court Theatre and the National Theatre in London.

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Interview: 12 Angry Women, this term’s ‘hot topic’ at the Oxford Union

Interview: 12 Angry Women, this term’s ‘hot topic’ at the Oxford Union

Out of the vast body of work produced by the American writer Reginald Rose, the court room drama Twelve Angry Men is the most well-known and frequently adapted piece on stage, film and radio, and has become an inherent part of many a literature course’s curriculum. Amongst the various adaptions and remakes are several theatrical versions of the drama that cast women in the roles of the jurors, however, Twelve Angry Women: A Rehearsed Reading will put a new twist on the gendered nature of the play according to director and OUDS president Katie Ebner-Landy and producer Rebecca Roughan.

Working with the original script by Rose, Katie argues that previous all-female renditions of the play merely refrained to “modelling the characters in their plays on the male characters; it wasn’t like creating a whole new atmosphere, just reflecting or transposing it”. She explains how this particular interpretation of the play challenges the conventional ‘gender-swapped’ renditions from a linguistic perspective: “I think it’s quite a challenge for an actor to be able to create a female character out of a male character, it’s a totally different way of approaching a text. (…) My aim was to have people read it through after creating female characters and try a come up with alternatives to ‘gentleman’, ‘boy’ or ‘guy’ on the spot; we had to change lots of stuff and the things that was most pertinent was not how aggressive they were to each other physically, but how they speak, their really confrontational style of speaking. You just can’t find an equivalent with women, with female pronouns, it just doesn’t work which we found really interesting, so we’re trying to keep that disjuncture and that awkwardness”. An example for the linguistic rearrangement of the script is the sentence ‘How would you like me to cave your head in for you, you smart little bastard?’ in which the original ‘bastard’ will be replaced with ‘c***’, a word Katie describes as a “more female insult”.

Rebecca highlights that changing the format of the drama from a stage play to a rehearsed reading is first and foremost an experiment: “We’re seeing where this goes. We’re replacing some things to try and make them sound natural, but we’re also leaving some things (…)  so the audience can almost exactly feel how jarring it is for a woman to say a man’s words”.

Although the reading is set out to explore the shift in power dynamics within the play by replacing the male juror with an all-female cast and, additionally, challenges the lack of great female roles in the majority of plays, as Rebecca points out, it does not have an explicit feminist agenda. “I think there has been a very exciting and fantastic growth of feminism in the last like two years”, says Katie, so for “students who are in this kind of environment of feminism, this might be a way in for thinking about issues and start to explore them” whilst Rebecca adds: “It’s quite interesting for people who don’t consciously identify with feminism at the moment, and we’re not setting out to put this on to ‘convert’ people, but because we think it’s interesting and we think it will be a great discussion”.

And with a Q&A session planned after the show on Monday evening, Twelve Angry Women is certain to kick off a debate around gendered language, women in theatre and feminism in general that will invite the audience into an on-going and much needed discussion around gender equality.

Monday, 3rd February (with Q&A afterwards) & Tuesday, 4th February (3rd week), Oxford Union, free entry; show starts at 8.30pm, but guests are welcome to join cast and crew for some music by all female artists from 8pm; the donations collected during the evenings will go to the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre.

Endgame – Praise for the Ultimately Absurd

Endgame – Praise for the Ultimately Absurd

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“Finished, it’s finished. Nearly finished.” The opening line of Beckett’s absurdist icon Endgame is a neat illustration of the play’s style: razor-sharp, black-as-hell wordplay and self-reference combined with an utterly bleak existential outlook. It is a titanic text to attempt to do justice, but Will Felton’s production with Fools and Kings Theatre attacks it with a visceral intensity, dragging it back from classroom analysis to the raw medium of the stage.

The cerebral stage directions become brutally corporeal. The description of the bumbling servant Clov (Jamie Biondi) as “unable to sit down” is interpreted as one of his legs being deadened by a gaping, bloody wound. The role is extremely physically demanding, but Biondi tackles it with relish, dragging the useless leg behind him like a dead weight as he staggers around the intensely claustrophobic Burton-Taylor (with audience stacked on three sides). It is Luke Howarth as Hamm, though, who dominates, presiding over the stage with his resonant, mellifluous voice, delivering lines with an earnest gravity that is constantly undercut by Beckett’s impish humour.

The humour is key to this production’s biggest successes. The flip-side of its seemingly unmitigated gloom comes to life on stage more than on page: Clov killing a flea in a wild fit of insecticidal rage is a moment of pure slapstick. Thomas Toles and Dina Tsesarsky are less strong as Nagg and Nell, Hamm’s parents imprisoned alongside one another just too far apart to touch. Although they achieve a rich mix of supernatural ethereality and human tenderness, the action starts to sag in their lengthy dialogues. In fact, moments where the energy levels droop are far too frequent throughout, as pace suffers amidst thick verbal density.

In the latter stages of the production’s 100 minutes without an interval, the cyclical refrain of “It is finished. Nearly finished” becomes more a glimmer of hope for the audience than an expression of apocalyptic angst. Even the stark but eerily beautiful set and the ominous sound design don’t stop this production being just a little less than the sum of its parts. All the ingredients for a great production are present, but it needs the spark of sustained energy and pace to make it truly memorable.

PHOTO/ Père Ubu

Production company banned from O’Reilly

Production company banned from O’Reilly

An Oxford drama production company has been banned from using Keble’s O’Reilly Theatre after two cast members “verbally abused” technical staff.

The unidentified group was removing sets and equipment after a recent performance, a process known as a “get-out”.

The technicians were reprimanding a male cast member for walking underneath a flybar in a ‘limbo’ motion when the incident occurred.

According to an email from Alex Bucknell, President of TAFF (a group representing set designers and stage staff), “it became apparent that multiple members of the cast had been drinking alcohol during the get-out”.

He described the consumption of alcohol as “absolutely unacceptable”. He also defended student technicians, claiming that “get-ins and get-outs from many shows would be far slower, more strenuous and much less efficient” without their efforts.

The production company was also fined their damage deposit, as well as the indefinite ban.

Emma Brand, President of the Martin Esslin Society (which runs the O’Reilly during term time), also condemned the incident.

“It was a serious breach of health and safety regulations and a serious display of discourtesy towards the technical staff,” she said.

“As the letter stated, the production company have been penalised accordingly.”

“I hope the letter will make student companies more conscientious about following health and safety regulations, and more aware of how the technical staff deserve to be treated,” she added.

Mary Flanigan, the University Drama Officer, said it is “important that the cast and the technical team of any production treat each other with mutual respect.”

“This was an isolated incident where high spirits got out of hand, and I believe that the venue, the production company, TAFF and myself all consider the matter closed,” she added.

Bucknell asserted that “this was an isolated and thankfully rare event”, and said “the vast majority of cast and crew members are extremely cooperative during get-outs and are appreciative of the contribution made by student technicians.”

The O’Reilly has a capacity of 181 and performs around four student productions per term.

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