By Catriona Inglis
I couldn’t help but be impressed after leaving the first show I saw at Durham Student Theatre. Indeed, I felt a little intimidated by the polished, well-rehearsed nature of the performance and the way the whole thing seemed to come together with such ease. It seemed to me to be a gigantic step up, in comparison to the sixth form productions I saw and was part of. Since arriving at Durham I have reviewed three shows, previewed one and am scheduled to review my fourth this week. However, as a reviewer and as a fresher in her first term, I am very aware that I have only scratched the surface of Durham student theatre. In reviewing, we are invited to take part in the experience of the performance in a way that is unique but also limited. We see the product without the production.
This fact became clear to me when speaking to my flat mate, Ellen Tapp, who is performing in the upcoming Fresher’s play. She described the nerve-wracking but also welcoming experience of auditions. She said that auditions were a lot more “relaxed” then she had expected and that she was in fact made to feel very comfortable during the process. Perhaps this surprised me because of my own experiences of auditions before coming to Durham, experiences that I do my utmost to forget. Or perhaps the quality of the shows that I had watched made me assume that Durham Student Theatre must be somehow for the elite, for the crème de la crème of actors; something that I could never be a part of. Indeed, before coming to Durham I had naturally assumed that I wouldn’t be good enough to do any more than watch.
However, the more I experience Durham Student theatre, the more I talk to the actors and the producers that are part of them, my preview interviews for Picnic at Hanging Rock were particularly helpful for this, the more I feel like this was a grave error and assumption on my part. The acting, directing and production of student shows at Durham is outstanding but it is not inaccessible. As a reviewer or as an audience member, there is a tendency to forget that shows are a process, they don’t start how they end, nothing starts perfect and it is unhelpful to forget that. Overall I have been pleasantly surprised by my experience of Durham Student theatre and have been encouraged by what I have found. In light of this I would encourage any fresher who came with similar presumptions to me about what university theatre would be like, to put these aside and go and audition, or pitch your ideas to production, or put yourself forward to do tech. I know I will be.
Photograph: Rosie Dart