As the adage famously goes, ‘save the best until last’ and in terms of Durham theatre, this is certainly the case. To be blunt, W;t is possibly the best show I have seen during my time at Durham so far and that is saying something. The play’s story consists of a poetry lecturer’s battle with terminal cancer and her life story. It is powerful, heavy, hard-hitting stuff and Rebecca Mackinnon, who plays the acid-tongue lecturer, Vivian Bearing in question, is more than a match for such material. Indeed, she could teach Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl a trick or two about playing a cancer patient. Whilst it could be said that Mackinnon is often overcast in Durham productions, in W;t, it is undeniable that she deserved the part and then some as her portrayal of Bearing was pitch-perfect. Cold-hearted and frank most of the time but vulnerable and honest enough to gain the sympathies of the audience, there is nothing Mackinnon cannot do. Simply phenomenal, Mackinnon is undoubtedly somebody we should keep our eye on in life after Durham.
However, she was just one of the many talented members of the cast. Gareth Davies’ was superb as the arrogant Dr, Posner; the man who is now calling the shots in the life of Dr. Bearing. Sympathetic to an extent, Davies toed the line between too much and not enough extremely well. Steffan Griffiths Dr. Kelekian was also a delight to watch; a former student of Dr Bearing’s whose ambition and callous curiosity was not only fascinatingly portrayed but a real joy to watch despite the occasional slurring of his lines. The ending where his life begins to come crashing down due to pushing too far was one of the best examples of physical acting I have seen in a drama; his frustration was raw, intense and undeniable. Rebecca Collingwood as Dr. Bearing’s only mentor and friend, Professor Ashwood also deserves praise for her portrayal of a calm, clever woman who has the balance between academia and a personal life just right. Her nursing of Mackinnon’s character near the end was poignant and touching and it was a shame she wasn’t featured more.
Special mention though must go to Clare Reavey as the ditzy but kind nurse Suzie. The real heart of the show, Reavey had a heart-warming quality about her performance which brought light to a predominantly bleak show – in terms of topic matter of course.
Atmosphere in relation to the show was also spot-on. Prop use was sparse and effective, as was lighting which was a joy to see; dark but not too much so; it was a balance that is surprisingly hard to capture. Staging was also perfect; there was exactly enough space and since the audience were up on stage with the performers, it was extremely intimate which is probably what made it so successful. Director Adam Usden should be more than proud of his success as should producer Katie Jackson. Her ability to find a cast that gelled together so well is impressive, doubly so for her first time as a producer in Durham Student Theatre.
In short, W;t ticked all the boxes for me; it simply didn’t put a foot wrong. However, a real sign of its power came from audience response. With no exaggeration, multiple members of the audience burst into tears and those who didn’t surely felt drained. Surely, this must have been what Aristotle meant when talking about catharsis.