House Drama Competition

Arts

​This year’s House Drama Competition was a seriously impressive and impressively serious event, though there was a huge amount of fun along the way as well

The adjudicators for the evening were Lorna Rees, a highly experienced theatre artist, performer and director, currently Artistic Director of Gobbledegook Theatre, and Eleanor Buchan, an actress, theatre-maker and story-teller who has worked in just about everything, from traditional rep to site-specific immersive theatre. Both of them declared themselves overwhelmed by the quality of what they had seen, and by the maturity, professionalism and total commitment of everyone involved. This included the ‘amazing’ compéres, Lydia Cozens and Sam Kan, who were slick, confident and very funny.

The theme of the Competition was ‘Difference’, and first on stage were Lovekyn with ‘Four Walls’, devised and directed by George Parrott, Charlotte Samady, Archie Sturton and Natasha Thomas. This was a cleverly constructed piece in which stylised mime and movement blended with realism to create the tortured inner confusion that plague a young man convinced he is the target of relentless and remorseless bullying and belittling, all of which we see meticulously acted out. Take two, and we suddenly see the same events and conversations played out subtly differently, this time showing how the boy’s version of events and his low self-esteem are the result of paranoid delusion. Take three and we see the boy’s dawning realisation of this and thus the emergence of something like hope for his future. The adjudicators were full of praise for the energy and maturity shown by a young cast and the confident performances of the two leads, Jamie Bisping and Maddie Kelly. This was, they said, fantastic work, with a genuinely surprising revelation. The theme was handled with great compassion, making mental illness something we could all empathise with and understand.

In contrast, Queen’s gave us jollity, warmth and noise with ’The World’s End’, set in a pub of the same name, a focal point for the local community. A large cast of young performers showed great ensemble work as the regulars try to save their pub from property developers, represented by Miles Compton. Miles was excellent, and his character carefully drawn. He was no black-hatted villain, just the bloke who had the unpleasant job of telling landlords they had to get out if they couldn’t afford to buy the land their pubs occupied. The regulars try all manner of fund-raising ruses, but inevitably fall short and so it is the end of the world for The World’s End. The adjudicators thought this a ‘beautiful piece of work’ by directors Laura Marcus, James Gawn, Niamh Cullinane and Grace Kelly. They loved the mix of ages in the cast, and the enthusiasm and commitment with which they created the busy, happy pub, where diverse characters and social oddballs were given space and love, but for whom there was no fairy-tale happy ending. The play dealt with serious contemporary issues with great compassion. The judges found special praise for Omid Alavi’s comic timing, and I was taken by the performances of Luca Kamleh Chapman as the landlord, Olivia Arnold as the landlady and Dennis Rigby as the flashy Gregg.

After the interval came Taverner, with ‘Inside the Outsiders’, an insight into the minds of patients at a group therapy session, written by Danny Livingstone and directed by him and Joanne Sivanathan, Teddy Coward and George Kitson. Danny also acted and began the play setting out the chairs for what was to follow. Danny created the scene and his character perfectly, and by nothing more than the precise, deliberate way he moved and spoke. And with his eyes, and his glistening white trainers. In the days when we had an award for best actor, Danny would have won it before he even opened his mouth. There followed a series of harrowing monologues, each superbly delivered while the rest of the very strong cast acted out the anxieties being described, and all cleverly linked by commentaries from Lydia Fisher-Norton’s therapist Rosemary. The adjudicators loved this staging, commenting on the detailed ensemble playing it involved and praising Lydia for holding it all together with such skill. All the actors gave convincing performances, they said, but Danny deserved special mention for taking on the very challenging task of writing, acting and directing, as well as for his finely observed performance.

And so at last to Walworth, with ‘Nightmare’, directed by Jose Palmer, Maya Yousif and Paula Antalffy. This piece involved much satirical humour at the expense of the press, the NHS and pushy mums. Amidst many others, the most notable theatrical device was the hilarious gender-blind casting of Christian Maddock as the mum. No-one else could have pulled it off half so well, and the adjudicators loved it. Again, beautiful ensemble work and stagecraft won special mention (the chorus of four doctors and reporters were very funny). The two leads, Rory Stroud and Sofie Procter, rightly earned particular praise (and might have jointly challenged Danny for the acting prize had there been one) and the physical working out of the narrative and the music sequences all worked very well. If we still had an award for best supporting actor, two contenders would have stood out from this cast, along with Omid from Queen’s. Joshua Stainer created a real connection with the audience, and Amelia Metcalf was strikingly disciplined in her movement, gesture and eye-lines. Hers was a small role but a riveting performance.

And then we all relaxed and waited for the verdict. The adjudicators said it had been an almost impossible decision, but in the end concluded that Walworth were fourth, Taverner third, Lovekyn second and the winners were Queen’s. Congratulations to all of them. Thanks, too, to the Drama Department and Miss Boulton in particular for overseeing it all, to the unseen marvels of the technical crews and to our brilliant adjudicators. Indeed, thank you to everyone involved for yet another wonderful evening of House Drama.