Anna Jeary reviews HBT’s ‘At the Cistern’, applauding it as a deserving winner of the Darren Funnell Playwright Award.
Not only a season opener for Hilde Bede Theatre, but a piece of new writing by Durham graduate Joe Skelton, At the Cistern proved to be a charming and ambitious production.
The set was very effective, despite it’s smaller scale, with brilliant little touches that leant authenticity to the scene. The toilet in the corner of the room was obviously a talking point, and the squares of paint samples on the wall, lonely calendar hung up, and the single light-bulb with no shade, really gave the impression that suggested the characters had really just moved in.
As the lights came up, true to the details of the set, we met the characters of Rob and Charly – a couple in their mid twenties who have recently moved to this run-down house in the middle of the British countryside in order to get away from the stress of city life.
It was a pleasure to see how the pair, performed by Lily Morgan and Rory Barnes, had a real chemistry on stage. It was easy to believe that they were each other’s ‘mouton’.
Indeed, this was a benefit from having two very well developed characters.
Morgan must be commended for her charismatic and engaging, climaxing at the perfectly played final scene where she really loses her cool. Rory Barnes manages a more sedate but very charming Rob with clear ease.
Similarly, a visit from their next-door neighbours introduced us to the character of Suzanne. Suzanne is perhaps the most interesting character of all; at times socially stale, then overwhelmingly intense. Corinna Harrison’s intriguing and adept performance was excellent until it unfortunately fell short in the challenging final scene.
In contrast, it was a shame that Graham (their University-professor next-door-neighbour) played with panache and a great amount of comic timing by Hamish Clayton, never benefited from character development, but rather is left as the light relief.
With these two, I wonder how brilliant their performances could be if the same amount of work went into making theirs a very believable broken relationship, as had evidently gone in to our protagonists Charly and Rob.
This being said, the cast achieve great dynamics between the four characters and the eruption of the final scene between them all is very well done.
Director Jeremy Smart has pulled together a very accomplished production, and it is a great example of student theatre producing something very professional. The depth of the writing was well supported by the attention to detail of each element of the show, giving the sense that the piece was generally very well thought through.
I can categorically say that the play is very well-deserving of the Darren Funnell Playwright Award, recently set up to encourage new writing in Durham – and it is brilliant to see how well such ambition can pay off.
Photograph: Jeremy Smart