There is plenty to enjoy in 2021 Freshers’ Showcase: Unheard Voices. The pre-recorded, streamed showcase features both musical theatre songs and spoken monologues. There is a great variety in the pieces, both in terms of tone and in terms of how well-known they are. It is worth noting here that although the description of the show on the Durham Student Theatre website states that the content ranges from “Hamlet to The Little Mermaid”, there are actually no pieces from The Little Mermaid in the show. The showcase is directed by Jodie Sale, who is assisted by James Bailey.
The most impressive and memorable performances in the showcase are by Zoe Buckthorp, Louis Renauf, and Jennifer Lafferty. Buckthorp performs her own song, which is called ‘You Said’. It is a catchy number and she sings it beautifully. Louis Renauf performs a monologue from Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends. He plays Colin, who is trying to analyse Evelyn and dissect her problems. Renauf is successful, with his gestures and with the timing and tone of his asides, at creating the impression that there are other people in the room. He brings out the humour of the piece very well. At the end, when he leans forward and asks whether he should speak about Paul next, we as an audience do want to hear more. Renauf’s Colin is compulsively watchable. Jennifer Lafferty delivers an extract from Glitterpunch by Lucy Burke. Lafferty’s pacing is spot-on and the piece sounds very natural and spontaneous. Lafferty captures her character’s conflicting emotions – wonder, despair, jealousy, confusion – excellently.
Waitress the musical features in the showcase three times. Orlaith Chambers sings the poignant number ‘Everything Changes’ with the perfect amount of tenderness and earnestness. Vivienne Shaw has a very sweet voice, which is fitting for her performance of ‘What Baking Can Do’. It is an enjoyable and engaging piece, so it is a shame that part of middle of the song has been cut (the section that goes “Even as I can’t stop remembering how… every door we ever made, we never once walked out”). It is jarring for anyone who knows the musical well and leaves a slightly awkward gap in sense. Bella Attenburrow gives a moving rendition of ‘She Used to Be Mine’. It is one of my favourite musical theatre songs and it suits her voice perfectly.
The showcase also features songs from many other musicals. Sam Jones’ split-screen performance of ‘You and Me (but Mostly Me)’ from the Book of Mormon is great fun to watch. Archie Collins sings ‘Love Who You Love’ from Man of No Importance. I had never heard of this musical before, but it is a delightful song. Collins performs it very expressively, with great charm and sincerity. Georgia Malkin, who sings ‘Dead Mom’ from Beetlejuice, is also very expressive and immerses the audience in the performance. Alexander Bittar sings ‘Where I Want to Be’ from Chess. This is a challenging number, especially where the tempo picks up. Bittar’s rendition of it is powerful and emotive.
Moving away from the musical numbers to the monologues, Maddie Clark delivers a monologue from Shelagh Stevenson’s Memory of Water. Her performance is engrossing and her comedic timing on the line “Don’t get me wrong – I love men” is just right. This monologue works very well in the streaming format: it fits the plain, white background and the simple prop (a glass of red wine) is enough to evoke a fuller scene. Frankie Docker performs a comic monologue from the play Collapsible by Margaret Perry and immediately draws the audience in, making her character relatable and endearing. Perry is very successful at conveying to us just how patronising her character’s sister is: “Look, Es”.
It is clear that the production team have put a great deal of effort into this showcase and their hard work is worth it. Although there is not space here to single out all the performances, all of the actors should be proud of their work. It is exciting to see so much talent among first-years and I hope they will all have many opportunities to perform live in Durham in the future.
Tickets for the Unheard Voices showcase can be purchased on the Durham Student Theatre website. Regardless of which performance date day you choose, the stream will be available 24 hours a day from Friday 12th at 7pm until the 26th February.
Image: Durham Student Theatre.