Review: The Durham Showcase

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Rounding off the term’s excellent array of drama, seven Durham finalists took the stage at the Assembly Rooms Theatre to perform a selection of contemporary monologues, duologues and songs. The Durham Showcase, established in 2015, displays some of the best talent Durham has to offer, in a cohesive and engaging night of theatre; the 2023 rendition did not disappoint in this regard. The evening soared with ease from comedy to tension, volatile to subdued, and from spoken word to music. I particularly appreciated how the chosen pieces really demonstrated not only each actor’s ability but their versatility to the audience. The result is a fulfilling and wholly enjoyable night in the presence of impressive talent.

 The evening began with a duet: ‘We’re Just Friends’ from I Love You Because, performed by Florence Lunnon and Samuel Kingsley Jones. The pair were given a comedic base to work with, but they took the humour above and beyond the song itself. Their chemistry had the perfect balance between erotic and sheepish, jumping between passionate gazes to abashed smiles to the audience. This, paired with their fantastic vocals, made for an energetic and impressive beginning to the show; the bar was set high. Lunnon shone whenever she came onstage, bringing the audience into silent contemplation with her performance of Rachel’s monologue from Elinor Cook’s Pilgrims. Her reserved defiance and stifled contempt was affecting, and one could not take their eyes off of her. A particular highlight of the evening for me was Lunnon’s performance of ‘Just One Step’ from Songs for a New World. Her voice was charged with desperation and fear whilst maintaining the comedic tenor of the piece. Her use of facial expressions is brilliant, making her appear almost animated in her portrayal; I was left laughing as well as dazzled by her skill.

The evening soared with ease from comedy to tension, volatile to subdued, and from spoken word to music

Samuel Kingley Jones exhibited excellent versatility. After opening the show alongside Lunnon, we saw him emerge sombre and captivating with Harry’s monologue from Mayfly. Jones executed this darkly comedic piece with excellent poise, keeping me on the edge of my seat as he flitted between tension and humour with ease. It was brilliant to see his emotions slowly become more prominent as the monologue progresses, allowing the audience to really see the humanity behind his words. Finishing with ‘Come Back’ from Dogfight, Jones finished his pieces with a bang. His place on a future West End stage is a must! The control he maintained over his voice as he delivers the crescendos is astounding. His exasperation was suffused into his vocals, pleading to the audience with his desperate gaze. Jones’ voice filled the theatre and left each member entranced; he was a joy to watch.

  charmed the audience with his first monologue from On Love by Mick Gordon. Kris’ pacing and comedic timing are impressive, having the audience giggling throughout. His wide eyes and grin made for a wholesome energy, using gesture to set the scene for us, whilst he expertly executed the anxious or even resentful undertones of the piece, concerning unexpected fatherhood. It was a nuanced performance which Kris communicated perfectly. Next performing Just Your Average G.I. Joe by Jerrod Bogard, the shift in tone was evident. Tense and nervous, Kris used a stiff physicality and a detached eyeline which worked splendidly for the subject matter of the monologue, taking the audience from gentle snickers to harrowing silence. Kris finished off his pieces alongside Amy Davis, performing a duologue from Sex with a Stranger by Stefan Gowlaszewski.  The pair bounce off each other amazingly, their awkward spatial relationships making for a dynamic hilarity which has the audience in fits; it is a worthy last piece for Kris.

Jones executed this darkly comedic piece with excellent poise, keeping me on the edge of my seat as he flitted between tension and humour with ease

first performed a monologue from Enigma by Floyd Dell. She held attention brilliantly with her captivating stage presence, delivering her lines with bittersweet reflection. The energy increases steadily as the piece progresses, with Davis maintaining a pained tone to her voice which melds with her facial expressions to produce a sense of surrender tinged with hurt. Davis showed herself to be a multi-faceted performer with her second piece: They Don’t Let You in the Opera by Kelli O’Hara. From her endearing pink cowboy hat to her striking vocal range, Davis left the audience wholly impressed. This being a particularly vocally challenging song, Davis soars through with ease, combining vocal clarity with hilarious gestures and asides; she commands the stage and had me smiling throughout. Davis’ penultimate piece was a duologue with from The Effect by Lucy Prebble. Whilst both actors exhibited complex and enthralling emotions, I could not help but feel their physicality stunted their performance somewhat. They seemed caught between delivering to the audience and each other; achieving more of a flow within their spatial relationship would have allowed their excellent performances to develop unbridled. However, Davis’ final performance with Kris rounded off her time on stage beautifully.

was a force to be reckoned with. Starting off with David’s monologue from Goodbye Charles by Gabriel Davis, he held the audience in the palm of his hand. Bittar brought the bustling restaurant to life before us, masterfully delivering his lines so that we could picture his girlfriend and her new date in front of him. Combining his judgemental looks with his anxious vocal quivers, he perfectly depicts the nervous but affronted energy of his character, having the audience cackling throughout. Bittar’s comedic timing is excellent, executing each aside with confidence and an impressive biting quality. His monologues were selected very well to display his range, his second monologue from Cock by Mike Bartlett taking a more sentimental yet turbulent tone. Bittar performed the role of John, struggling to communicate his bisexuality to his male partner. His physicality worked brilliantly with the lines, clearly showing his discomfort and confusion through his almost reluctance to communicate. Bodily tension and grimaces, shifting to airy smiles and relaxed shoulders, Bittar did an adroit job of portraying his differing feelings towards both lovers; his stage presence was commanding and went unmatched throughout the show.

His monologues were selected very well to display his range

  has immense talent which she displays beautifully in all her performances. Starting off with Imogen’s monologue from One For Sorrow by Cordelia Lynn, she keeps the audience on tenterhooks without once moving from her place in her chair. Clark is an actor that knows the astounding power of emotional restraint and subtlety. I could see her rage bubbling beneath the surface of her stiff physicality, her strained vocals and the way she hissed through her teeth communicating masterfully the way she was struggling for control over her anger. Her second monologue from Sparks by Simon Longman featured Jess, who was holding her pet fish. Seemingly a minor detail, it requires great skill to convince the audience of an invisible prop, but maintaining the believability throughout the scene, Clark achieves this perfectly. Her awkward smiles and comedic delivery had the audience laughing whilst simultaneously making us aware of the underlying tension throughout the piece. Clark demanded focus, displaying how her attention to detail made her acting stupendous without the need for excessive movement; she was wholly impressive in everything she did. The stand-out performance of the night was Clark’s duologue with from Peep by Jodi Gray. The chemistry between the two was electric, and keeps the piece brimming with energy and hilarity in a way that seems effortless. Using their hands to imitate binoculars, the pair created a dynamic performance utilising masterful comedic timing, witty, quick exchanges and wide-eyed stares that had me doubled over laughing.  This duologue was truly phenomenal, my only complaint being that I can’t see them perform it again!

demonstrated affecting versatility in all her pieces. She created a stark contrast from Peep with Jess’ monologue from Rabbit by Nina Raine. Adam sat poised with reserved strength and dignity as she delivers her biting, defiant lines. Her subtlety is fantastic, maintaining a quiet and haunting energy, warning the audience with the undercurrent of danger running through her voice. This is a masterful performance which excellently displayed her ability. Again, astounding me with her range of skill, Adam displays once more her comedic prowess in her performance of Debbie’s monologue from Love and Money. She performed this monologue with a confidence that successfully demands the audience’s attention, delivering gory and lewd details with a forthright emphasis which had the audience roaring with laughter despite the unhinged nature of her character. Adam displays her ability to transform herself with each new character she takes on, leaving me both touched and elated by her performance.

The chemistry between the two was electric, and keeps the piece brimming with energy and hilarity in a way that seems effortless

 Commendation must be given to director for collating such a spirited and affecting evening of theatre, allowing each actor to excel in their own unique way. It would have been better if the closed curtain did not make for an awkward transition between performances, but the sheer excellence of the pieces made up for these clunky moments. The duologues worked brilliantly to display the performers’ ability to adapt to different dynamics, whilst the monologues displayed their personal flair and vitality. The 9th iteration of The Durham Finalists Showcase was a night that truly exemplified the quality of drama we aspire to in Durham Student Theatre; I am sure we will see these familiar faces on the stage and screen in the near future.

Image credit: Emily Phillips, Durham Student Theatre

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