Olivia Bevan was impressed by the finalists of DUCT’s annual Classical Acting Competition.

DUCT’s Annual Classical Acting Competition returned a second time for 2018, where a small group of seven hand-picked actors competed for the accolade of ‘Best Classical Acting Performance 2018’, in an evening that showcased the fantastic classical talent here in Durham.

The showcase commenced with a welcome and introduction from the evening’s host, George Ellis, who introduced each finalist throughout the night and gave the audience some context about their performance, whilst occasionally providing some comic relief in between the often sombre and serious pieces.

The choice of Hatfield Chapel for the venue was in my opinion an excellent one, as it provided an intimate atmosphere which complemented the nature of the showcase, as the seating offered the audience an up close and personal interaction with the actors. The finalists in question used this space to their advantage, some of them taking the opportunity to explore the stage area and come right up to the audience in their performances.

Kicking off the proceedings was Francesca Chaplin, who gave an excellent demonstration of grief and anger in her portrayal of Lady Anne in an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Thomas Jacobs gave a convincing performance in the role of the Watchman in an excerpt from Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Taking on the role of Gloucester in an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 3, James Cumming gave a frighteningly villainous performance that was impressively sinister. Madeleine Lock proved that she has a strong aptitude for comedic timing in the role of Lady Bracknell in an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Next up was Joseph Pape, whose performance as Edmund in an excerpt from Shakespeare’s King Lear was brilliantly venomous and perfectly caught the bitterness of the jealous sibling. Afterwards came Harry Scholes, who gave a compelling performance in the role of Lucifer in an excerpt from Byron’s Cain and whose powerful delivery captured the insatiable hatred of his character towards God. Finally, as Juliet in an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Martha Wrench demonstrated her ability as an actress in capturing the inner turmoil Juliet faces as she considers taking the Friar’s potion and the potential consequences this action poses.

After all of the finalists had performed, there was a brief interlude in which the audience waited in anticipation as the judges counted the scores they had given to each actor. The two guest judges in question were Dr Patrick Gray, who is an Assistant Professor within the English Department and the Northern Bridge Subject Area Academic Contact for Drama and Theatre Studies at the University, and  Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker, the winner of last year’s Classical Acting Competition in 2017 and current DUCT Vice-President. Such a well performed selection of monologues proved difficult to judge due to their overall high standard, but ultimately the judges came to the conclusion of third place to Madeleine Lock, second place to Joseph Pape and first place to Harry Scholes, who was awarded the DUCT Classical Acting Competition shield. The judges not only presented their feedback to the finalists in front of the audience, but after the evening concluded each actor was given a feedback card from each judge. I was highly impressed by this level of feedback and just how constructive the showcase had been for the theatrical development of those who took part.

Across the board, every single finalist gave a powerful and imaginative performance, bringing new life and passion to Classical works that are over one hundred years old and have long been established in the minds of audiences and actors alike. Each finalist proved themselves to be a skilled performer and they should all be very proud of what they have accomplished.

As for the organisers of the CAC, from George Ellis’s confident hosting to the slick and effective lighting coordinated by the tech team, they should each be applauded for providing and executing this wonderful new platform for Durham students to compete whilst simultaneously improving their acting skills, thanks to the constructive feedback given by the judges.

To conclude, the CAC was a marvellously successful evening that proved to be both entertaining and enriching for all those present and I very much hope that the competition stays around for many years to come.