“heart-wrenching…unbridled chaos…masterful…dynamic and touching…get yourself over to the Ustinov Room to catch these three shows!”
Coming to the Ustinov Room in Van Mildert, I didn’t know what to expect, knowing relatively little about the shows and feeling apprehensive about the conference room’s venue capabilities. However, I was pleasantly surprised by all three shows and had an excellent evening.
‘Diary of an Existential Crisis’ by Flo Lunnon opened the programme, following siblings Jo and Pax facing the end of the world. The close sibling relationship of these characters, played by Sylvie Norman-Taylor and Jo Price, render heart-wrenching moments, with Norman-Taylor especially embodying the teenage energy of her character, which makes her desperation faced with the end of the world even more emotional. Ben Cawood (playing a variety of hilarious characters) and Georgia Newton (playing Jo’s best friend) provide a reliable source of comedy, notably in the unbridled chaos section (Cawood has a ridiculous amount of range)! Charlotte Beech production managed, successfully overseeing the technical side of the show and ensuring the sound and the projections were both very effective. The music choices throughout are well thought out and the clever use of projections provide an extra dimension to the play. Unfortunately, I feel the busy projections sometimes drags attention away from the action onstage, and the extra layer of complication occasionally means actors aren’t typing when they’re supposed to be, etc. Though the show feels a little long and occasionally lacks direction, it is light-hearted and fun on the whole, and a great credit to first-time director Emilia Lewis. A shout-out should also go to Joyanne Chan for the excellent publicity and branding around the show.
The second show of the night was Shehrzadae Moeed’s ‘June’, the story of a has-been drag queen trying to break back into the biz. Stephen Ledger is masterful in his portrayal of the ageing Miss June/Billy, conquering the feat of the one-man show. Maddie Hurley’s direction fills the stage and channels the flitting emotions of the queen into a very meaningful experience. This is enhanced by the team’s lighting and sound (Moeed, Hurley, Molly Knox) , with the vocal cameos providing a great source of levity. Whilst Ledger is incredible, ad libbing hilarious, the star of the night is Moeed’s writing. Providing a constant barrage of jokes and witty observations, the show garnered some of the loudest laughs of the night, and certainly the most constant. I feel a couple of areas for improvement could be that Ledger is at times a bit too spritely for someone with crippling arthritis. Additionally, the final number is greatly built up and is an odd song choice that perhaps detracts from the effect. The blackouts also aren’t necessarily needed as the show is free-form enough that jumping place-to-place could be done without the lighting change. Overall, however, I greatly enjoyed this show and had to remind myself throughout that it was- in fact- student writing!
Last, but certainly not least was Olivia Riches’ Cathy and Darla, which provided a delightful pace change. Despite being the most serious piece of the night, it managed to excellently inject comedy at just the right moments to make the drama hit harder. This incredibly well-written domestic drama, following an evening from two couples’ perspectives, is excellently acted by all. Scarlett Carter is convincingly both ditsy and manipulative, and Bhav Amar playing the perfect foil to this, believably expresses the frustration of a long term partner. I am most impressed by James Barber and Alannah O’Hare, who had less time on stage but managed to build up just as convincing a portrait of a long-standing relationship. Although the cutting between scenes provide a fast paced and enjoyable show, I feel sometimes the scenes are a bit too snappy. However, I was very impressed with overall direction from first-time director Rosaleen Tite-Ahern, creating a dynamic and touching show that kept the audience on the edges of their seats, despite being placed at the end of the evening. I was also impressed with how the set transformed the rather characterless Ustinov Room into a living room – Tite-Ahern and producer Iqra Khadiza did an excellent job with this element of the show. Everyone involved should be very proud of themselves.
I had a great evening watching these three shows, giving me both a dose of comedy and of emotion. They reminded me that good theatre can happen anywhere- not just in a physical theatre. So get yourself over to the Ustinov Room to catch these three shows!
By a Durham University Student
Photo Credits: Durham Student Theatre