Review: Classical Acting Showcase

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Durham University’s Classical Theatre company scores a triumph as the annual Classical Acting Showcase proves beyond all doubt that there is no shortage of classical acting talent in Durham. With the evening split into two halves, ten actors deliver a series of classical monologues from Shakespeare to Sophocles in a well-organised compilation of exceptional performances.

kicks off the evening with a familiar favourite: Shakespeare’s “winter of discontent” speech from Richard III. Standing dead still in the middle of the stage, Davies gives an excellent King Richard. Contemplative, resentful and sinister in equal measure; it is clear from the start that the audience is in for a treat.

From Shakespeare to Sophocles in a well-organised compilation of exceptional performances

The Brook’s Bar by Parson’s Field offers a small, intimate space in which the actor can command the full attention of the audience; creating silence where they want drama, and laughter where they want comedy. The intensity of each performance is aided by the lighting which simply set two yellow/orange lights on centre-stage. The closeness of the actor to the audience is of particular benefit to ’s rendition of Olympio’s monologue from Titus Maccius Plautus’ Casina. Picking on one member of the audience for his delivery, Ledger creates hilarity by over-annunciating absurd lines, such as “like a worm”, as though they are the smartest thing anyone has ever said, getting close to the audience member’s face and whispering to great farcical effect. Having such a simple set-up has the additional advantage of allowing for rapid transitions between performances, ensuring that the energy and intensity is never lost.

The actors who stand out above all the rest are those who give two performances; particularly those who deliver two very different extracts. The advantage of this, from a competitive standpoint, is to demonstrate the diversity of the actor’s skills. Ledger’s ridiculous Olympio, for example, is a world away from his first character, a deadly serious Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Similarly, Honor Douglas is able to first conjure John Webster’s broken, vengeful Vittoria, excoriating her unfaithful husband (“what have I gained by thee but infamy?”) but then, in the second half, delivers a comedic Rosalind from As You Like It, exaggerating her absurd criticisms of Phebe to the applause and laughter of the audience.


Outside of the individual performances however, it is this diversity and variety of the chosen extracts that made the showcase overall a truly exceptional performance. Effortlessly switching from the dramatic to the tragic to the ridiculous, each actor gives it their all and the result is an electric and enjoyable evening of classical theatre. The real triumph of the evening, however, is the fact that the drastic changes in tone never detract from any one performance, as might be the danger of having so many different monologues performed back-to-back. One is totally absorbed by which ever performer is presently giving their performance. This is testament not only to the actors’ skills but also to the masterful direction of Eleanor Sumner, and who deserve a great deal of credit for making the showcase as engaging as it is.

One is totally absorbed by which ever performer is presently giving their performance

Ultimately the judges crowned two runners-up ( and Honour Douglas) and one winner (Alannah O’Nare) but all the actors (Seb Pavin, Nathan Jarvis, Honor Calvert, Alex Davies, Catherine Turner, and Raphael Kris) deserve huge congratulations on performing what amounts to nothing less than a rich masterclass in classical acting.

Image credit: Durham University Classical Theatre

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