Millie Adams reviews the Assembly Rooms instalment of this year’s Durham Drama Festival


Dos is what it says on the tin; this tale of two makes you laugh, tense, and mutter to yourself “they really need to break up”. The play’s light-hearted opening was successfully comedically executed, in its presentation of a guided meditation that descended into chaos. Maariya Khalid, playing Joni, immediately captured the audience’s attention in her varied facial expressions, with her virtual gathering interrupted in Dex’s (Horatio Holloway’s) attention-grabbing entrance.


The pair have been together since university and the dialogue slowly reveals the peaks, troughs, and intricacies of the relationship. When Joni takes issue with Dex wearing makeup to a dinner with parents, she sets in motion a heated argument concerning the pair’s mutual bisexual identity and divergent gender expression. Maria Galimberti’s writing navigates these tense issues well with a particularly poetic monologue, delivered beautifully by Maariya Khalid, breaking through the conversational prose. The lighting team deserves credit too, for elevating this moment with the juxtaposing spotlight of Joni and obscure darkness of Dex as he rambles on silently, in mime. An intimate moment between audience and performer, Joni’s confessional words, heavy in metaphor, were at times hard to follow but pierced through with moments of wonderful transparency. 


When dos become uno at one of the play’s many crisis points, I felt ten tonnes lighter. Unfortunately, Dex’s breakup proposition is followed by a series of escalating “no”’s from the troubled Joni. The breakup is off the cards almost as soon as it was on, with a powerfully spiteful monologue from Joni. Belittling Dex with jibes at his masculinity, this scene was a hard one to watch. In an unusual ending, the play closes with the pair frantically embracing one another. Barely able to hold eye contact with the stage, Horatio and Maariya certainly brought to life the maxim “we hurt the ones we love the most”.

Photo taken from @fourthwalltc Instagram.

Love and Freindship 

Austen meets Moll Flanders: written by Zara Stokes-Neustadt, this wonderful piece of theatre perfectly revives the wicked humour of the two. The play centres on narrator Laura, played by the wonderful Olivia Clouting, as she retells adventures from her youth. It is the task of the rest of the cast to bring these scenes to life, and this they do. Working seamlessly as an ensemble, the comedic potential of Stokes-Neustadt’s writing was explored to perfection, a credit to director, Emily Browning. The energy did not drop once in performance, culminating in the audience’s belly-laughs, especially at a moment of audience participation in the sham marriage with Molly Bell’s character Jeanetta. 


The quality of acting was truly brilliant and well matched to Stokes-Neustadt’s comedic writing. Indie Spafford made for an outstanding Sophia, with a flirtatious catwalk entrance promising the hilarity that followed. Sylvie Norman-Taylor, playing younger Laura, a rocket of a performer on her own merit, was even more fantastic in this pairing; Sophia’s prompting younger Laura to fainting fits galore provided a sensationalism that was a charm to watch. Spafford and Norman-Taylor bounced off one another and all of their characters’ flaws melted into obscurity as they commandeered the stage. I can’t blame Edward, played wonderfully by Matthew McConkey, for falling in love with Norman-Taylor, I think we all did that night. Jude Battersby, Henry Skinner, Oli Butler, and Scarlett Clarke as the ensemble also provided stellar performances. Battersby’s entrance in kilt, accompanied by Pandias Margaronis on the bagpipes was definitely a memorable moment.


Props were utilised particularly well in this performance with note going to the use of umbrellas as wheels, the twigs which magically formed ‘an elm’, and a cello handed to the younger Laura following the request of a violin for mourning. Norman-Taylor frantically running about the stage manhandling a cello and lamenting her lover made even death hysterical. Such was the merit of this outstanding play where laugh followed laugh and there was never a dull moment.

Picture provided by Ellen Olley.


‘Technically’: a Musical 

This was a heart-warming end to a wonderful programme at The Assembly Rooms. Taking crew as cast, this musical brought the technical team out from behind the scenes and sang the audience through a story of camaraderie, hidden talent and finding confidence. 


Grace Heron stood out as Sound, delivering lines with brilliant comedic timing and tone. Her rap was a highlight of the night, along with the solo performed by Lights, played by Jolie Rooks. Lights was a charming character who jelled the ensemble, diffusing tension between Stage Right and Left, cheerleading Stage Manager and Sound, and revealing a beautiful singing voice. The foil of Sound, it was surprisingly hard to dislike the Director, despite their jarring demands on tech. This is in part owing to Rachel Wilkinson’s performance: she stunned with not a single note or line wasted. Walking on with a comically oversized book of ‘Director’s Notes’, Wilkinson made a loveable fool out of her character. Carrie Cheung balanced out the cast perfectly as the endearingly stressed out Stage Manager. Stage Right (played by Emma Clarke) and Stage Left (Niamh Williams) made a loveable Tweedledum and Tweedledee type relationship, with their playful competition adding an energetic undercurrent.


On account of the play’s premise, it would be wrong not to credit the crew.The set was designed perfectly to capture the backstage atmosphere, littered with props and chaotically organised. As the curtains opened, there was a palpable disorientation but soon immersed in this usually hidden world, the audience’s attention was captured throughout by the actors but held with successful lighting and sound choices from crew.


Last but not least, a round of applause for Luke Mallon and Faith Gorton, who, judging by the end product, worked together a dream as musical directors. Similarly, Jacob Marshall and Shannon Hill as writers/ directors (assisted in direction by Charlotte Walton) should be applauded for the clever premise of the show; after an evening of theatre entirely written, performed and coordinated by students, it gave me a massive appreciation for all of the blood, sweat and tears that allow such evenings to go ahead in the first place. 

Image provided by Katherine Chapman.

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