Durham Festival of Arts preview: 17th-18th June


The final two days of the drama festival include opera, fairy-tales and atomic warfare.


Copenhagen; 2:30pm and 7:30pm 17th June; 2:30 18th June; Horsfall Room, St. Chad’s College

First up is an intimate and intelligent examination of physics and metaphysics. Copenhagen deals with the meeting between two scientists who together revolutionised atomic science, but now find themselves on opposite sides of the Second World War. ‘Copenhagen is unique amongst the DFoA’s line up of theatre because of its intimacy,’ explains director Tom Mander. ‘It is set in the intimate venue of Chad’s Horsfall room with a significantly smaller audience than the other productions in the programme. The exploration of larger ideas in physics, politics and philosophy are done well when the audience is pushed right into the heart of the discussion, and the Horsfall room has a good track record in generating the right atmosphere for philosophically dramatic works and pieces which explore human psyche and motivation.’

Aside from its intellectually challenging subject matter, Michael Frayn’s complex and elusive text has also provided a challenge. ‘There are so many possibilities as to what the characters are actually referring to, or even when they are referring to, so it can be challenging when selecting which parts are the most important,’ Mander continues. ‘However, after much cast discussion and debate the meaning comes through – revealing Frayn’s genius in structuring the play like this.’ It certainly sounds like one of the more cerebral shows in the festival, and Mander promises ‘an intellectually stimulating piece full of criss-crossed argument and philosophy.’

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Mansfield Park; 7:30pm 17th-19th June; Music Department Concert Hall

Durham Opera Ensemble’s productions have always had a reputation for polish and sophistication, and their upcoming production of Jonathon Dove’s adaptation of Austen’s Mansfield Park takes them in a new direction. ‘Our director Hannah Cox’s concept of using senses and making the concert space into an intimate setting of a room in Mansfield itself really involves the audience in a way that DOE has never really seen before,’ enthuses assistant producer Rachel Newell. ‘DOE has never before produced an opera like this. Each part is pretty much of equal weighting. We were lucky enough to be given a masterclass by the composer Jonathan Dove himself, again which DOE have never been able to do.’

For fan of Austen’s novel, the opera promises to bring the story alive in new and unexpected ways. ‘As an opera, we get to see another side to interactions between characters. A greater amount of emotion can be portrayed and characterized through music that words alone cannot convey. The duets between characters shed a different light on the relationships they have with one another, seeing different sides to characters that perhaps one might not have obtained from reading the book alone.’ An audience can expect a very different, and perhaps enlightening, version of the story of Fanny Price’s struggles among the Bertrams.

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Sunshine on Leith; 7:45pm 17th-18th June; Trevelyan College Dining Hall

When deciding upon this year’s Trevelyan College Musical, Sunshine on Leith seemed a natural choice for director Sorrel Brown. ‘Not only does Sunshine and Leith offer a challenge due to its impressive casting requirements,’ he says, ‘but it has a huge variety of songs which everyone knows and loves which provide a universal appeal for audiences young and old alike.’ The musical tells the story of two young soldiers who return to Edinburgh from Afghanistan and their ensuing romantic tribulations alongside the music of The Proclaimers. ‘The music of The Proclaimers lends itself very well to the storyline,’ producer Asher Glinsman explains. ‘Due to their huge variety in style and mood, the artists have provided a truly terrific foundation for a touching and emotional storyline.’ It seems like the perfect choice for anyone looking for feel-good musical.

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Rumpelstiltskin, 7pm 18th June, Empty Shop

The debut for new theatre company Wrong Tree Theatre, which specialises in devised pieces based on fairy-tales, Rumpelstiltskin is also set for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. ‘The beauty of fairy tales – especially those of the brothers Grimm – is that they have something to say to every generation: they deal with morals, with right and wrong, in a way which can be at times magical, disturbing and even humorous,’ explains producer Charlotte Thomas. ‘Wrong Tree’s production of Rumpelstiltskin presents an irreverent, whimsical take on the classic, which would greatly appeal to children. What it also does, however, is draw upon darker themes and storylines within the tale, leaving the story open to a more ‘adult’ interpretation. I would go so far as to say that the adults among us are the ones who should be most concerned with the play’s messages. After all – how often is it that the children are the ones in the wrong in these stories?’

Wrong Tree have a talented and dedicated cast of creatives in order to bring a fresh envisioning of the classic fairy-tale. ‘Director Henry Fell, with the invaluable advice of Associate Alumni Creative Helen Fitzmaurice, have worked hard to devise a piece from scratch, using only the bare bones of the well-known fairy tale to create a whole new piece of theatre,’ continues Thomas. ‘Tom Harrison has added a new dimension to the piece with both adapted and original music and song-writing. Last but by no means least, Danielle Oliver is truly transforming the players with her genius costuming – the sheer talent she displays is alone worth the price of a ticket.’ Don’t miss an exciting opportunity to catch them in action before they head to Edinburgh.

Book your tickets here!

Photograph: Wrong Tree Theatre

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