The Durham Showcase, established in 2015, is an annual celebration of eight Durham University finalists who wish to enter into the drama industry as actors. The showcase, typically made up of monologues and duologues, has both Durham and London performances, to which agents and industry professionals are invited, as well as the cast and production team’s friends and families. Previous Showcase alumni include Hannah Azuonye, who was signed by Waring and Mckenna in 2016 and has since appeared in Girl from the North Country at the Noel Coward Theatre, Ellie Gauge and Sophie McQuillan, two of the three founders of Showcase, who set up a theatre company called Poor Michelle, and Suzy Hawes, producer of last year’s showcase and now working at the National Theatre. Several other individuals have been signed by various agencies and/ or have jobs in the creative industry.
The 2018 troupe consists of: Luke Maskell, 2017-18 President of the Durham Revue, and well-known for his comedic acting and stand-up throughout his three years at Durham; Steph Sarratt, who has twice represented Durham at the National Student Drama Festival in Swallow and Grounded respectively; Owen Sparkes, 2016-17 President of Castle Theatre Company and most well-known for a stunning performance in Cock in 2015; Rebecca Cadman, noted for her incredible acting talent in Sightline Productions’ Lela & Co earlier this year; Adam Evans, a versatile performer who has impressed audiences with his performances in Eight last year and BU21 this year; Rosalie Minnitt, Revue member and part of the cast of the Palatinate Award-winning 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche; Theodore Holt-Bailey, current President of Castle Theatre Company and recognised for his performances in Hamlet in 2016, and Cabaret this year, and finally Millie Davies, DULOG’s Treasurer, who has performed in almost every DULOG musical since she arrived in Durham, and the only member of the troupe to be performing a song in Showcase, in addition to a monologue and a duologue.
This year, Showcase is being directed by Sophie Wright, whose DST directing credits include The Bloody Chamber (2017), Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (2017), The Normal Heart (2017), and Picnic at Hanging Rock (2017). She was also coordinator of both the Durham Drama Festival 2018 and the Durham Festival of the Arts Black Box venue. First Night’s editor, Lucy Knight, spoke to Sophie and found out a bit more about how the process has been.
She commented that ‘something that we’re trying to keep in mind this year is that Showcase is a work in progress.’ As the showcase has only been running for four years, it is still gaining clout, and previous production teams have perhaps been a little too ambitious in the calibre of agents and professionals invited to the show. This year, Wright tells us that ‘we’re focussing on smaller boutique agencies and people with whom Durham already has a connection’.
Wright also said ‘it’s not just about exposure, it’s also about the process’, adding that ‘the troupe’s journey and progress throughout the rehearsals will hopefully have given them a taste of the industry.’
As for her own experience of the creative process, she comments: ‘I love picking apart pieces on a small scale’, but that Showcase ‘is for the troupe – it’s not for me.’ Having said that, she does admit that to be ableto ‘facilitate’ their development has been immensely rewarding.
In addition to Wright’s direction, the troupe have received support from creative assistants Rosie Dart and Claire Simonis, who Wright says have been ‘invaluable’, and have had the opportunity to take part in several workshops, including professional-led sessions by Complicité and Fay Beck. Issie Osborne has also acted as Musical Director for Millie Davies’ sung piece, and led the whole troupe in a breathing exercise workshop, requested by a troupe member. It would seem that the whole process has been truly collaborative, and Wright expresses that every member of the cast and creative team are excited about how the pieces are coming together.
As for the pieces themselves, Wright tells us to expect some Shakespeare pieces, and extracts from Fleabag, Motortown, The Pass, and Polar Bear, amongst others. All the cast and creative team have been involved in sourcing various pieces. Wright said: ‘It’s been fascinating seeing [the troupe] do stuff outside their comfort zone’, although of course they have had to stick to pieces within their casting. She has particularly enjoyed working with Luke Maskell and seeing him do something ‘slightly more serious’, rather than the comedy we have come to expect from him, and Millie Davies, who has never done a straight play before, only musicals. Wright has relished the task of ‘giving her the tools’ to successfully and confidently perform a monologue.
Whilst Wright admits that ‘trying to manage everyone’s time’ in the post-exams mayhem has been tough, but she is pleased with what they have managed to create. Certainly, this performance promises to show off some of Durham’s best acting talent, and hopefully it will act as a propeller into careers in the industry.
The Durham Showcase will be performed in The Assembly Rooms Theatre on the 25th June at 7:30pm, and at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, on the 4th July, 1pm.
Photographs: Samuel Kirkman