Durham University Classical Theatre promised to take their audience ‘on a walk through the past’ with their Classical Acting Showcase, and that promise was fulfilled. Although it was a brilliant end to the week having several exceptional actors captivate audiences with their short speeches, it was just a shame that the overall production did not support their talent.
Opening the evening was a new face to Durham Student Theatre, Louise Coggrave. Although the placement of who she was speaking to in her Queen Margaret monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part III seemed to shift constantly, her vision sat on a large armchair with a crown was menacing. Her second monologue as Sophocles’ Antigone was much simpler and rawer; it truly felt like she was trying to reason with the audience, with limited movements making the piece feel more natural and less rehearsed than the previous.
Following newcomer Louise was old-hand Kit Redding whose Benedick monologue from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing was intense, but his sudden rush off stage made him lose all impact he had had over the audience. His second monologue saw a clear shift in maturity as he played the young Romeo from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but showcasing more range between this and his last piece would have increased engagement.
Giorgia Laird was the next performer who, like Kit, stuck solely to Shakespeare pieces. She demonstrated inspirational confidence, performing the entire of her Hamlet monologue to the two judges and making each new thought sound fresh. The choice to scream some of the words meant that enunciation was limited, and the audience lost some of the meaning, although the range shown was fierce. Her second monologue was the infamous ‘gallop apace’ monologue from Romeo and Juliet, which felt wildly different to the first but the audience could no longer see her thought processes as they could in the first.
Hidayat Malik was another fresh Durham Student Theatre face who effectively used voice during his monologue as Menenius Agrippa from Coriolanus, but his physical actions felt instead forced. His second monologue as Shakespeare’s King Lear was wildly different from the first and showcased his strengths as a performer. However, many words were lost due to lack of diction in the second monologue. With stronger feedback before the performance, this could have been easily salvaged by Director Freya Williams.
However, Charlie Culley in both of her pieces, was simply superb. She made clear choices that feel natural and unrehearsed, using props with ease and her strong use of voice admirably. In her first monologue as Hermione from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, the sense of who she was speaking to in terms of authority was occasionally lost, but in her performance as Dionysus from Euripides, The Bacchae the sense of her as a powerful yet mad figure was fully and beautifully communicated to the audience.
The following performer, Etienne Currah, maintained Culley’s sense of strong audience communication, making eloquently written speech seem natural. His first performance as Dorian Grey from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey contrasted nicely with his second as Lord Byron’s Sandanapalus. Still, his chosen poise felt unnatural and some of his movements felt a bit like they lacked a purpose.
Finally, the competition winner, Jack Coombs, showcased that he was born to be a classical actor. His ability to force the audience attention right until the lights go out was astounding, and he beautifully made Shakespeare’s words sound natural in his own tongue as he played Richard II. Although his second piece felt a bit too similar to the first as Trigorin from Chekov’s The Seagull, it was equally as captivating as he believably found humour in the relatively serious piece.
Unfortunately, the whole showcase felt like the audience were watching drama school auditions, but confusing ones as keeping up with different characters, performers, settings and time periods without introductions was bizzare. The quick changes between performers and extracts without introducing them did not help guide audiences through the evening, neither did the production beginning and ending casually, with members of the Durham University Classical Theatre Company exec and Classical Acting Showcase Production Team members seemingly wasting the audience’s time. After such a strong cohort of actors, filling time as the judges made their decisions with half-hearted rounds of applause ruined any atmosphere created during the production.
The Classical Acting Showcase is a tradition for Durham University Classical Theatre Company, but charging audiences to watch strong acting without a given context was confusing and did not feel as though it deserved a place in student theatre.
Image credit: DUCT