By Simon Fearn
If we ever needed confirmation of the quality of Durham Student Theatre, eight awards at the National Student Drama Festival ought to do it! In the 60th year of the festival, DULOG took home the Judge’s Award for Contribution to the Festival and the Festgoers Award for The Addams Family, whilst Jenny Walser won the Judge’s Award for First Time Director for Battered Soul’s Cock. Palatinate spoke to award winners Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin and Will Emery, along with Cock’s Owen Sparkes, about their experiences at NSDF.
Tyzack-Carlin, winner of the Spotlight Most Promising Actor award for The Addams Family, confessed to feeling anxious before arriving at the festival. ‘I had heard only good things,’ he said, ‘but couldn’t help envision a week of continuous one-upmanship in which students from across the country battled for precious ‘networking’ opportunities. Any qualms I had about the festival were unfounded. In place of the competitive atmosphere I had pessimistically anticipated, I found a supportive community of students and professionals who had come together to celebrate their love of theatre.’ Emery, winner of the Judge’s Award for Choreography, expressed similar sentiments. ‘There was no bitching or bad-mouthing (which the drama community is notorious for),’ he explained, ‘just a real sense of pride in the work that was being produced, and the fantastic talent that was present at the festival.’
Tyzack-Carlin talks fondly of the variety of talent that was on display, and being inspired by the nine productions selected from other universities. ‘One of the highlights of the week was The Nottingham New Theatre’s production of Steven Berkoff’s West,’ he recalled. ‘Quite frankly, every performance in this play blew me away, and I left the Spa Complex hoping there would be someone in Durham brave enough to spearhead our own venture into physical theatre.’ A renewed appreciation for physical theatre was also something Emery took away from the Festival. He described how a workshop led by Simon Pittman of Frantic Assembly ‘made it abundantly clear to me (and others who went to the workshop) that Durham is in serious need of some physical theatre!’ For those looking for something a little different to grace the Assembly Rooms in the near future, watch this space!
Aside from epiphanies about new avenues DST could explore, Tyzack-Carlin also shared some more light-hearted anecdotes from the festival. In particular, he remembers an open night where, ‘after a string of beautifully performed musical numbers, a Warwick student took to the stage to perform a poem tentatively entitled “I put my dick in a Ford Fiesta.” The poem, a hilarious piece about kink acceptance, was met with rapturous applause.’ We can all learn from someone with the confidence to perform a poem about inserting their member into such unusual places. Emery concluded that ‘the support, advice and generosity of everyone at NSDF meant you left the festival with a new found confidence and desire to produce great theatre.’
Aside from the workshops and the opportunity to sample a wider range of student theatre, however, Durham’s successes at the festival were an unquestioned highlight. ‘I was very proud as a member of the production team for Addams Family to see four of our leads win awards for their performances,’ Emery told me, ‘and then finishing the night by winning the Festival Goers Award for favourite show left us all on cloud nine!’ Reflecting on his own award for choreography, Emery said that this is an aspect of theatre which often goes unrecognised in Durham. ‘It seems in Durham that choreography is a component of shows that is often taken for granted and ignored in reviews (and the same goes for the extraordinary bands and Musical Directors we have here). With choreography and with the bands, it seems you only notice them if something goes wrong, rather than commending them for how great they so often are.’
For Sparkes, the highlight of the festival was sharing a show he really believed in with a wider audience. ‘The best aspect of NSDF was that what we were sharing was demonstrating what we thought was important,’ he explains. ‘It was the perfect place for us to show what we think needs to be talked about and performed today.’ For Emery, however, performing in a selected piece was not an essential part of the NSDF experience. ‘Regardless of whether you’re performing in a show or not, anyone interested in going into theatre should attend NSDF,’ he recommends. ‘One cannot put into words how much you learn merely from attending the workshops and seeing the other selected works, plus it is so much fun!’
Emery, Tyzack-Carlin and Sparkes will undoubtedly use their experiences at the festival to inject new energy into DST. All that remains now is to celebrate the recognition of Durham’s theatrical achievements on a national level, and make sure we do just as well next year!
Photograph: Aenne Pallasca