This autumn has seen an impressive array of theatrical productions on campus, from the Drama Barn to the University’s Music department. Dead Meat looked as if it would win the mantle of Most Unlucky Production (until the cancellation of The Fire Raisers), with its final night postponed due to an injured actress and the lead actor perhaps biting off more than he could chew in his first term, taking part in three campus productions.
Despite these setbacks, the production remained a success. The lead performances were very strong, with Anouska Flower playing the sparky Steph and newby Alex Forsyth as the predatory, middle class Alain – justifying his popularity with this term’s directors.
Dead Meat is the latest theatrical work from student writer Sam Haddow, who provoked controversy last term with his violent re-telling of Electra. And violence is certainly on the agenda again this time, with directors Hana Morgan and Mark Kelleher, anticipating complaints, defending the piece against accusations of gratuitous violence in their programme notes. In practice, the violent scenes are not in the least shocking. Although death-by-lasagne is certainly unexpected, in these post-Tarantino times violence no longer has the impact it once did.
Haddow is clearly a very intelligent and talented writer and hopefully he will prove able to move past this technique and find some new and more challenging taboos to break in his future work.
The Music Department also proved a success this term, selling out both of its performances of this year’s practical project, Paul Bunyan, in the Sir Jack Lyon’s Concert Hall, and with good reason. Omar Shahryar and Dr John Stringer’s thrilling revival of this under-performed operetta, was truly a testament to themselves and the musicians involved.
Paul Bunyan is the result of a collaboration between composer Benjamin Britten and poet W. H. Auden. The opera tells the story of giant lumberjack Bunyan and the colonisation of America. Bunyan is an allegory for the complexities of the American Dream, with the lumberjacks clearing the forest to make way for the emerging modern America.
The most striking thing about this production was its contrasts. Characters like the narrator (Tom Appleton), who delivered lines of rhyming couplet with aplomb, and his grinning sidekick (Edward Winslow) created an effect which can only be described as kitsch, with the cartoon-like set design backing this up. However, there were also sobering moments, with the heartbreaking ‘Quartet of the Defeated’ reminding us that the American dream also led to downfall and ruin.
The chorus were enthusiastic, involved, and as you’d expect from the department, highly talented. York’s musicians provided a witty, colourful performance, which made for a wonderful evening.
The Dixon Drama Studio is rarely used for student drama productions, but recently housed three performances of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9. This peculiar two act play, which explores the relationship between colonialism and sexual oppression, is a heady mixture of British Africa and late 1970s London. Act One, directed by Will Bowry, instantly highlighted the play’s central themes of role reversal and stereotype. Bowry teased out the farcical hilarity and dark sincerity of this scene with pace and wit. Music, costumes and some priceless comic timing were delivered with professional flair, in particular by Marcus Emerton as the hilarious Clive.
The second act, directed by Beth Pitts, surprised us completely with its dramatic change of style to explore changing sexuality in modern times. Out of the brassy confidence of the first act, Pitts crafted nuanced relationships driven by sexual politics and set just the right tone of uneasy oddity. A bare set and directive lighting opened up the stage for reflection on the politics of the piece. Special mention must go to Becca Morgan who held us rapt as Betty, with beautifully detailed confidence and style. Let’s hope the Dixon sees more high-quality student drama sometime soon.