By Claire Richardson
While the Durham ‘Site-Specific’ Night lacks a dynamic name for itself, it is a fantastic showcase of the variety of student theatre in Durham. With three short pieces being hosted at different locations across the bailey, the audience was split into groups to follow a different trail of the plays. There was a variety of mood and genre with no direct link between the pieces, so whether this is seen negatively as disjointed or positively as diverse, it was an intriguing new way to experience theatre in Durham.
First on the route was the romantic satire hypoclitical by Kitty Briggs and Andy Ball. The play opens as two protagonists discuss their love lives despairingly, with the conversation evolving into their envisagement of an ‘anti-rom-com’ that might more accurately depict romantic relationships than a classic romantic comedy. The jokes flow quickly and easily, and are tied up skilfully with the metatheatrical nature of the ‘rom-com’, such as the presentation of ‘Rom-Com Clichés!’ on a screen to mock stereotypical expectations. This was a suitable piece to begin the tour as it reminded the audience not to expect theatrical convention from the experimental pieces that were to follow.
One of the imaginary characters remarks ironically that he is better than the ‘pint-sized plays in a student drama festival’; despite being ‘pint-sized’ the play makes some striking points about relationships behind its façade as another student sketch. The play jumps between the light-hearted comments that the hero should be relatable – ‘kind of thin when she’s stood up but fat when she’s sat down?’ and more dramatic political proclamations ‘I’m going to be free so fuck the patriarchy’. The rom-com seeps adeptly into the reality world of the two protagonists such that the characters are no longer influencing the rom-com but being influenced by it; by examining the way it operates itself the play encourages the audience to examine how we operate in our own relationships. For a ‘pint-sized’ piece this packed a dynamic punch and entertaining start the evening.
Second was The Empiricist by Caspar Bayliss, an intriguing absurdist drama based on the real story of the OPERA experiment’s misinterpreted discovery of a particle that could travel faster than light, in 2011. Bayliss astutely juxtaposes philosophical theory with scientific discovery, but with no knowledge of absurdism, the piece could be difficult to interpret. Lewis Russell and John Broadhead successfully play the respective parts as scientists Pavlov and Werner who react very differently to the prospective discovery that their entire research field of relativity may have been overturned.
Werner believes that they may have made an astounding discovering; while Pavlov, in the autumn of his career, incredulous, struggles to accept that this might be. The play pivots on the friction caused by Pavlov’s reluctance and Werner’s inclination to pursue the results. What the piece lacked at times in pace during some rather long sections of dialogue it made up for with the depth of its ideas, leading the audience to question how they might react if their entire belief system was turned on its head. The piece was also framed successfully on either side by powerful speeches from Broadhead which did also help to unpick the themes. Similarly to hipoclitical this pint-sized play funnelled many ideas into its short showing time.
Finally, the most simple in set and yet impressive in performance was Carrie Gaunt’s haunting production Eve, with Mally Capstick performing a stunning, iconic monologue in Hatfield College’s chapel. Eve is addressing Adam after their banishment from the garden of Eden; the audience are captured in the moment as Eve is confined by the turmoil of their expulsion and the turbulence of their relationship, presenting her broken body and mind.
Capstick is an incredible raw talent; she delivers the emotions of this vulnerable girl in a stained nightdress such that we are spellbound as she is crying, as she is singing, as she makes eye contact with us, and as she is commanding the room throughout the performance. We are taken on the journey of Eve’s adversity and there was not a member of the audience that was not engrossed in the emotions and passions of the broken individual on the floor. Eve describes Adam as ‘master of my flesh, creator of my body’ and explicitly describes how their lovemaking turned into a violation; as such the play focuses on relationships rather than religion. While at times the script lacked a little eloquence such as with the clunky metaphor ‘we are not like broken plates!’, the piece felt honest and raw, rendering a spellbinding sense of Eve’s defencelessness and destitution.
As such from the relaxed yet insightful comedy of hypoclitical, to the contrasts of discovery and interpretation in The Empiricist, to the raw and emotional Eve, this evening of contrasts and movement appropriately showcased the fluidity of talent and drama that exists across Durham for this year’s drama festival.
Photograph: DDF prod team