Now in its 42nd year, Durham Drama Festival (DDF) is back! As a celebration of all things dramatic, this week-long festival is the highlight of the Student Theatre calendar; it aims to showcase and encourage the new writing of talented Durham University students. This week, Palatinate Stage talked to the writers about their shows, the influences behind them, and why DDF is such a fantastic experience.
Site Specific Night – Thursday 9th February
A Year in Minutes by Hamish Clayton
Kristofferson Park Residences Committee is like any other residential committee. They squabble over who picked an apple from the tree without prior permission, walking too close to one another’s windows, and why that back gate is quite so squeaky. Taking the form of a year’s worth of minutes from their meetings, it soon becomes clear that the events of Kristofferson Park (much like the political events of this year) are about to take a turn for the unexpected.
The play is inspired by the residential committee that my house in Ross-on-Wye is a part of. I was flicking through the minutes of the latest AGM and found it hilarious that they were taking such petty things so seriously. It is definitely an idea that can be played around with and exaggerated. It was in the back of my mind when I started writing some absurdist dialogue between two characters (who break up the minutes of the meetings), before I realised I could write a year’s worth of meetings and allow some sort of plot to develop over the course of the year.
Before I knew it, the events were turning darker and darker and it became a black comedy with parallels to the turbulent events of 2016. Perhaps the links are not overly subtle, but I would rather everyone take enjoyment from it than anything else.
In my opinion, DDF is the best event in the DST calendar; the feedback from the professionals is invaluable, the rehearsals are the most enjoyable and the quality is always very impressive. Hamish Clayton.
The Bocchae: a post-truth tragicomedy in three parts by Alison Middleton
Remember the Brexit? We do. In fact, it bears spooky resemblance to Euripides’ ‘The Bacchae.’ Did Ancient Greek tragedy predict the future, or is there something even spookier going on here? Boris and Dave have been mates since day one, but when their party is shaken by a referendum on the EU, their lives change forever. No man is an island, but Britain is. Channel your deep angst about the future of the UK with this very surreal tragicomedy about a very real state of affairs. “Political and classical theatre at their finest” – A Middleton, 2016
The Bocchae is a post-truth tragicomedy about Brexit, based on Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae. Its influence, unfortunately, is the current political climate, but I hope that it demonstrates the importance of Art™ in these fairly Bleak times. I’ve always thought that Euripides’ Bacchae is funnier than it’s given credit for, and wanted to use this opportunity to show that the lines between comedy and tragedy are often more blurred than we’d like to think. Ultimately the hybrid of classical theatre and modern politics seeks to demonstrate the similarity of the two, rather than promote any specific political message. I submitted it for DDF because it’s a very groovy platform for new and experimental writing, and would definitely encourage anyone else to do the same. Alison Middleton
Daisy’s Dead by Alice Clarke
Set in the aftermath of a burglary gone wrong, one of the burglars has been stabbed and left behind. The piece follows the negotiations between the hurt burglar and the hostage, as one cannot escape from the situation without the other. To make matters worse the hostage says and does exactly what he thinks. How far can he push the burglar before the burglar snaps? Can the burglar restrain himself until he escapes?
Heavily influenced by working at the Edinburgh Fringe for the last two years, I wrote Daisy’s Dead to bring something different to audiences at Durham. Set in the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong, the play follows the negotiations between a hostage, Ben, and his stabbed captor, Jack, as neither of them can escape without the help of the other. With quick-fire dialogue, absurd conversations, and elements of black comedy, I wanted to capture the energy and pace of gangster films such as Pulp Fiction and put them on stage in Durham. The Durham Drama Festival is a fantastic platform to experiment on, and to get work judged by professionals as well as to gage the reactions of large audiences. Wanting to pursue writing as a profession in the future, DDF seemed like the perfect place to start, as well as giving me the opportunity to work with a fantastic team in bringing my ideas to life. Alice Clarke
Tickets have now sold out, but will be available on the door on a “first come, first served” basis.
The Assembly Rooms – Friday 10th February and Saturday 11th February
Screen 9 by Kate Barton
“There were shouts everywhere. Then I heard the transition from shouts to screams.”
‘Screen 9’ is a documentary piece which is a culmination of over a year’s worth of research into the Aurora shootings in Colorado during a showing of ‘The Dark and Knight Rises’ in 2012. The script follows four characters, created from interviews with American citizens, survivors, articles, press releases, blogs, videos, tweets, and trial coverage. The play follows the before, during, and aftermath of the event, focusing on how individuals respond and cope with tragedy. Every single line has been resourced and nothing has been fabricated.
Part of me struggles to take the credit as the writer for Screen 9. In truth, I feel that I should have been named the facilitator, compiler and researcher for the project! Screen 9 is a documentary piece which has been over a year in the making; a culmination of research into the Aurora shootings in Colorado during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. The script follows four characters, created from interviews with American citizens, survivors, articles, press releases, blogs, videos, tweets, and trial coverage. Every single line has been resourced and nothing has been fabricated. I wanted to explore the notion that tragedy can occur anywhere and that it changes, not only our conception of the space it took place in but also the individual. Like many things, it came about after a 4am conversation 2 years ago and my passion for telling stories from voices rarely heard. This is the survivor’s story, not mine. Kate Barton
Alford and the Acid Tip by Kate Lipson
California. USA. The local penitentiary’s Death Row is in full swing. But not if three protesters can help it. Follow their journeys through mind, matter, and surreality. From game shows to prison gates, ‘Alford and the Acid Trip’ is a hallucinogenic comedic exploration of the capital punishment and its consequences.
Toll by Charlie Keable
‘I thought they wanted soldiers.’ Four long years later, Toll realised the army wanted much more from him. Join Oliver Clemence Soanes, or ‘Toll’ to his friends, as he recalls his memories of the so called ‘Great’ War. From plucky recruit to shell-shocked survivor, this is a true story of the horrors of war unlike any other.
See these shows from Friday 10th – Saturday 11th February. Book your tickets here. Limited Availability.
Black Box – Friday 10th February and Saturday 11th February
Cold Fronts and Hot Flushes: The Short Stories of Kevin Spacey by Andrew Shires
A ghostwriter and his best friend work tirelessly to create the greatest book ever written. A book of short stories about love, religion, friendship, and spiders. Except they didn’t write a single word. Kevin Spacey wrote it. Kevin Spacey wrote everything.
The play is a number of short stories, with a framing narrative intended to explore ideas around writing itself, and creative ownership. I’ve always been a really big fan of short stories of any genre, and I really like the way they can sometimes come together to be part of a bigger picture, so I’ve tried to incorporate some of that into my play. It’s also been a nice chance to write something less comedy oriented than the Revue, though a lot of the stories are meant to be funny. Some of the ideas in it are more personal, whereas some are merely meant to be fun, so one of the main challenges was to structure everything so as to keep the play relatively balanced. DDF is a fantastic opportunity to share new writing, and it’s something I’ve been intending to try for a while, so it’s been great to finally have the opportunity. Andrew Shires
The Not So Divine Comedy by Freddie Drewer
The only sexy religious play you will see in 2017. ‘The Not So Divine Comedy’ showcases everyone’s favourite stars! Featuring icons such as… that hunky Spanish dude you ‘met’ in Magaluf; that cute but mysterious guy just like in that band you love; Frodo Baggins; that one angel who really loves Valentine’s Day; a very relatable protagonist; and the author of the best-selling autobiography of all time – God!
I wrote A Not So Divine Comedy as something that would be fun to write, fun to act in and fun to watch. It has been a hard year both for me personally and the world at large, and I wanted to write something that would be all-round enjoyable.
In writing it I hoped to give funny women a spotlight in theatre. I wanted to write female characters who are more than just pretty sights that sometimes speak, and get away from the stereotype that women are wise and competent, and men are bumbling and incompetent. The main character of A Not So Divine Comedy, Rachel, is ridiculous; she’s a hypocrite, she’s insecure and she’s a pervert. I wanted the audience to be able to laugh at her antics, whilst also finding her very human and sympathetic in her flaws, and in this way also laugh at themselves.
I also wanted to write for the female gaze – to put women in the visual driver’s seat and portray men in a sexualised (and comical) light. It’s not fair on men that they are never portrayed as objects of lust and so A Not So Divine Comedy was written to pay thanks to all the sexy men for all the joy they bring to the world. Freddie Drewer
Rose by Isabelle Culkin
Rose is 21 and pregnant. Mark is 20 and not entirely sure whether he’s the dad. ‘Rose’ is the story of two people whose paths cross based on a split-second decision. A contemporary take on storytelling, ‘Rose’ explores the reasons why people stay, and at what point our stories begin, crossover, and end.
I’ve always loved storytelling. After binge watching one-person shows at fringe it struck me as strange that I had never attempted to write a monologue; monologues seem the perfect mode for storytelling. I looked towards short stories I had written when I was a teenager. I played around with loads of different characters and ideas, I found the part of a story I wanted and then I worked backwards. By the time I got into the swing of things it was no longer a monologue, but in part a duologue, and in part a pair of parallel monologues. It seemed wrong to give only one character a voice in a story that was so obviously about two people if not more. Rose more than anything else definitely looks at the places in which stories begin, crossover and end, and at which points people enter and leave our stories, and whether we can ever determine that for ourselves. Isabelle Culkin
Photograph: Samuel Kirkman