Last weekend saw the Drama Barn transformed into a domestic home, then a bank robbery scene, a remote forest, a corporate office and finally, a dystopic underworld, as the 3-day Inter-University Drama Festival touched down on campus.
Now celebrating its second year, the IUDF, which solely showcases student-written-and-produced plays, has doubled its participants, involving 6 unis across the country including Bristol, Newcastle, UCL, Royal Holloway, and Glasgow. York Drama Soc played the host effusively, getting the atmosphere going on the first day by herding the participating unis to town for an evening of drinking, partying, and willow-ing right through to the wee hours. A morning of recovery, orange juice and ‘Morrison’s Finest’ croissants, led into York Drama Soc kicking off the festival with James Soldan’s Dog Days.
Uni of York set the bar high with this intriguing and original interpretation of John S. Wojtowicz’s notorious Brooklyn bank robbery in 1972, reimagining what really happened on 22nd August that year amidst the onslaught of misconceptions and media hyperboles. Jason Ryall gave an electric performance as the live-wire Wojtowitcz, never letting the energy drop inside the barn. This was enabled too by Soldan’s superb writing which created distinct and interesting characters and provided pulsating dialogue throughout. With an intriguing concept, clever writing and creative set design, Soldan is certainly a name to watch in the near future.
Next off the starting blocks was Bristol with Blood Lullaby, a play about a woman suffering from depression seemingly induced by her inability to have children. Despite some touching moments and engaging acting, the play was let down by the over-ornate writing, which, though beautifully composed, seemed out of place in a play format, preventing the audience from connecting with the characters as they embarked on mini-poetry recitals at regular intervals.
The barn got its dose of comedy with Newcastle and Royal Holloway, who brightened the atmosphere with their titillating performances. Newcastle’s offering, Scheme, written by Dale J Pearson, proved that simplicity often produces the best results. This witty, unpretentious and minimalist piece traces the barbaric world of job interviews and highlights the fine line between the orderly workplace and the chaotic playground. Royal Holloway gave us a treat with Search Party which follows 3 men’s search for a missing boy in a wood near a family campsite. The subtle humour of the piece coupled with brilliant comic timing on the part of the actors made for an enjoyable performance, but which also had its fair share of poignancy.
The award for minimalism goes to Glasgow with Skin, who produced a daring performance constructed solely from two twenty-minute monologues, discussing issues surrounding homosexuality and disfigurement in an original and moving way. Hats off to the two-hander cast, Ross Wylie and Lucy McCalister, who gave tear-jerking performances that kept the audience’s interest with nothing more than words and voice. However, some of the profundity of the piece was limited by the onset of an aggressive tone towards the end which had an alienating effect on the audience, reducing the ability to empathise with the characters.
The most ambitious performance of the two days was produced by UCL, who also exhibited some of the best acting in their barn offering, Darkness Invisible. The subject matter was captivating and intriguing, depicting a dystopic world where fiction is under threat from an unknown persecutor. With its beautifully archaic writing, Darkness Invisible transformed the barn into an enchanting, surreal environment of magical potential. The one major criticism is that the plot suffered from being vague on the point of being impenetrable, and there were times where the music and direction became intrusive on the verge of being instructive. Still, commendations go to the cast, especially, Eoin Bentick for his phenomenal performance as the adorable old man, Francis.
The atmosphere off-stage at the festival was just as vibrant as on-stage. Hendrix Hall was buzzed as the massive lecture theatre was transformed into a kind of artistic refugee camp for Glasgow, Newcastle, Bristol and UCL’s casts, adorned with ample mattresses, and one of the biggest pizza take-away orders ever undertaken by Efes.
The York Drama Soc Committee did an exceptional job in organising and running the festival, ensuring all the universities were given an individual dose of TLC and ample entertainment in Hendrix Hall. They also extended their thanks to Dan Wood and Dominic Allen, IUDF judges and ex-Drama Soc Chairs, who ran acting workshops, giving valuable feedback to all the participants, as well as pumping up the general atmosphere.
Although there could have been some more inter-mingling between the participating unis, which might have been achieved by holding the celebration after the performances rather than before-hand, the festival was an abounding success. York should be proud of its contribution, setting the bar high for next year’s hosts.