The 2020 Freshers’ Showcase from the Bailey Theatre Company and Green Door is formed of four virtual plays, all of which are formatted via Zoom calls. Although not all of the plays are completely thrilling, there is something to enjoy in each of them and it is wonderful to see the newest talent in Durham Student Theatre.
A Really Good Plan by Frank Garland:
This piece revolves around the confusion of joining and leaving Zoom calls and is great fun to watch. Ellie (Ellie Boyden) and Clive (Arthur Drury) are planning an ATM robbery: Clive is unwilling to meet Ellie in person, so the plan is being concocted virtually. The two are confused to hear slurping noises coming from an unknown third person in the call. This turns out to be Mark, who has entered the wrong chat after attempting to join the call for his Dungeons and Dragons group. Thomas Warner gives a very entertaining performance as this quirky and buoyant intruder. His comic timing is excellent and in a very short space of time he creates a memorable and appealing character.
Ellie Boyden and Arthur Drury must also be praised for their performances. Despite this being a virtual performance, Boyden and Drury bounce off each other very well. When Drury, as Clive, tells the (then unknown) third participant in the group call that he is making him feel extremely uncomfortable, Drury’s expression is the perfect mix of bewilderment and horror. Boyden captures her character’s annoyance and exasperation very well, speaking through gritted teeth as she urges Clive to boot Mark off the call.
There is so much to enjoy in this piece, whether it the way that Ellie snaps at Clive not to reveal her name (when it is very clearly visible on the Zoom page) or the way that Mark, totally undeterred, pops up a second time with remarkable enthusiasm and energy.
A Novel Idea by Allie Costa:
In this sketch four girls are disagreeing about what to read in their book club. One character recommends Jane Eyre and The Yellow Wallpaper, but the others feel that this is too close to home: during a lockdown, they do not wish to read about women who are trapped in their own households. The play has moments of humour but it can drag and is not gripping. The actors need to be more subtle when checking their lines in their scripts as this prevents the piece from being enveloping. However, Gabi Gordon (as Arrietty) captures her character’s naïveté well. It is also a nice touch in the script that another character, Misha (Catherine Turner), feels more confident in herself by the end of the play because of the other girls’ encouragement: I think that Costa could go further with this idea of Misha’s character growth, as it would add some more drive and poignancy to the play.
Agents Howard and Ridge by Rory Leahy:
This piece involves a Zoom call between agents in a Computer Crime Division. Their arch-enemy, DarkLord42069, is planning to unleash the most powerful virus known to man and to send humanity back to its origins. The music featured at the start establishes the comic tone excellently. Arthur Drury (Agent Howard) and Abi Charlton (Agent Ridge) distinguish their characters from one another very well: Howard is authoritative and confident, while Ridge is nervous yet enthusiastic. Despite the challenge posed by a restrictive Zoom format, the two actors succeed in creating the perfect amount of awkwardness when Ridge asks if Howard wants to ‘hang out’ with her sometime. The awkwardness is pervasive, carrying across to the audience. Drury and Charlton’s expressions, their mannerisms, and the lengths of their pauses are just right. The strength of their acting makes the scene compelling.
King F**king Lear by Colin Waitt:
This is my favourite of the four plays. It features a video call between William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare is bursting with excitement: he has written a new play, King Lear, which he (ironically) thinks has amazing potential as a comedy. As Anne converses with their children and complains about how much she misses him, William pinches some of her ideas for the play.
The performance gets off to a humorous start: Anne declares that she needs to do something about the rats and Shakespeare jokingly rebukes her for referring to their children that way. In the hands of two talented actors and with the accomplished direction of Amy Haddow, the play continues to go from strength to strength. James Bailey (as William) and Gabi Gordon (as Anne) are endlessly expressive and fully inhabit their roles.
Waitt’s script is witty, gripping and inspired. Waitt manages to weave in several quotes from King Lear, as well as a reference to Shakespeare’s famous gift to Anne of his second-best bed. There is a neat little nod to Hamlet, too: William draws out a skull and addresses a skull as he tries to motivate himself (whilst self-isolating due to the bubonic plague).
Image: Bailey Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company.
All four parts of the Freshers’ Showcase are available on Youtube. The theatre companies are holding a fundraiser: they are accepting donations for Durham Action on Single Housing. For more information, please see their social media pages.