By Sol Noya Carreno
In a time when theatre opportunities are particularly limited, a showcase is particularly well-fitted to the moment. The numbers are varied, so you can get to revisit multiple old favourites, and showcases are shorter than full-length shows, fitting for our Zoom-weary attention spans. Hild Bede Theatre has taken the leap into online theatre and released the first of its two miscast showcases this term, co-directed by Lauren Brewer and Anna Pycock.
My first impression of the showcase was very favourable, as a programme was released on Hild Bede Theatre’s social media, giving a professional aspect. It is clear that this is not a half-hearted adaptation to the restrictions on theatre today, but a project designed to work in lockdown. Moreover, the theme of the showcase was clearly conveyed throughout and very fitting to our current climate: the eponymous hurricane refers to moments of crisis that the various characters depicted are facing.
The theme music for the beginning and intermission was also the introduction to ‘Hurricane’ from Hamilton – a nice little in-joke for musical theatre fans. Brewer and Pycock welcome the audience with a short and sweet video message where they explained the showcase and its fundraising aspect (sales will support Acting for Others).
Of course, socially distanced theatre still faces limitations, particularly when students have been ordered to stay at home and therefore not all of the cast may be in Durham. Mostly this comes through in the limitations of filming.
While some numbers were evidently aided by a helpful housemate or family member, others had to be self-recorded, meaning that the angles and availability of space on some numbers are better than others. Still, there was clear commitment to making the situation work overall, even with duologues having to be filmed on Zoom – though, when they are, I found it much more effective when the actors took care to have matching backgrounds.
The performances are all of a high standard, though for me there were three standouts. For the musical numbers, I found Olivia Jones’ performance of ‘One By One By One’ from Ordinary Days struck the perfect balance of acting needed. It can be easy, in a showcase, to find a performance which is over the top, as if the number was being performed as part of the whole show, or on the other hand, underacted, because the context is no longer there.
However, Jones perfectly captured Warren’s energy in this number, with her facial expressions and voice immediately conveying her character’s optimism and determination. Another masterfully acted and sung number was Florence Lunnon’s rendition of Freeze Your Brain from Heathers – my overall impression of her performance was that I would probably let her JD manipulate me into murder too. Moreover, she feminised JD very effectively – a truly successful miscast, making you wish for a gender-bent Heathers.
There were fewer monologues than musical numbers, but I found Robert Morrisey’s rendition of one of Rita’s monologues from Educating Rita particularly poignant, especially in light of the discrimination that Northern and working-class students face at Durham. Though his use of space could have been more effective, his characterisation was very touching.
If there was one sticking point for me overall, it was that at times the production seemed uneven. Some numbers used props, whereas some had just the performer in as close to a blank space as possible. There were many more musical numbers than monologues, and while the inclusiveness (which can be lacking in the Durham theatre scene) is to be commended, at times I wished some musical numbers had been swapped for monologues to achieve more balance.
While most of the numbers were of approximately the same length, some musical numbers were shorter while the Julius Caesar duologue felt like it went on for a bit too long. And while the acting was overall naturalistic, this was not the case for all the numbers, with some being acted out more exaggeratedly than others.
Nevertheless, Hild Bede Theatre’s Miscast showcase was still a very fun way to spend an evening while doing some good by fundraising. The numbers are overall absorbing, and Brewer and Pycock are clearly a very effective directing duo. I look forward to seeing their second instalment of this project.
Hild Bede Theatre’s Miscast: ‘In the Eye of the Hurricane’ showcase is being streamed online. Due to demand, ticket sales have been extended until next Sunday 7th March. Tickets are available here.