For any aspiring thespian, the OUDS New Writing Festival is a highlight of Hilary. 7th Week welcomes the unveiling of Oxford University’s playwriting talent, as the four of the best scripts entered in the festival are brought to life at the Burton Taylor Studio from Tuesday to Saturday. The NWF, however, is not simply a display of new writing potential, but also of directorial promise, as the festival is aimed at encouraging budding directors to stage, and bring these new ideas into the limelight. Upon entering the press preview for the 2013 NWF, I was impressed by the comfort and confidence with which I was greeted. Writers and directors alike offered explanatory overviews of the scripts they were working with, which was a very encouraging introduction to this year’s line-up: New Beginnings, Bad Faith, Roost and Closing Time. With these four very different plays about identity, you are bound to get lost in their tangle of comedy, grief, exorcism, and enlightenment.
New Beginnings, written by Dom O’Keefe and directed by Charlotte Fraser, is a comedy that tells of Boy’s experiences on his first day at his new sixth form. That “first day” is a memory which everyone has had their name stitched onto, and the common experience is skillfully toyed with by O’Keefe through the caricature of adolescent awkwardness, Boy, and the epitome of adult distress, Mum. The tension of this scene was humorously conveyed by Christopher Pike and Maddy Herbert, whose performances – although, at times, too controlled – revealed the anxieties and humour of their characters excellently, down to the last shirt tucking and sandwich packing detail. New Beginnings promises to take you by the sweaty palm and lunch-box through the gates of your first ‘new school’ day but slyly greets you with a comic punch.
In-keeping with scholastic and academic dilemmas, Bad Faith moves on from problems of over-parenting to over-thinking, as the excerpt shown demonstrated protagonist, John’s reflections on religion, following the enlightenment he undergoes over his summer holiday. This conversation takes place over a meeting organised by the ‘Text-A-Toastie’ scheme at Oxford University, where he attempts to express his thoughts to his friend Mae, who, lying on the table seemingly pensively, is only able to respond with ridiculous questions about his sexual relations. Alex Dickinson and Helen Reid aptly convey the difference in ideology and interests between the two friends in a comic manner, and Dickinson managed very effectively to not only estrange his fellow cast-member, but also the spectators, creating an unusual atmosphere and, overall, a preview in which I have good faith that it will become a great production.
The third play Roost, snatched me from the classrooms of New Beginnings and Bad Faith and opened the backdoor onto the farmland of rural Dorset. As with the countryside in which it is set, the play has many layers. Both comic and tragic, depicting surreal flashbacks, then coming back to the hardships of reality, Roost invites the audience to nestle into the minds and emotions of the characters. A particularly strong performance was given by Maddy Herbert (playing Eve) who brilliantly portrayed the bitterness caused by the suffering of her past. Roost will surely be an audacious production; though it felt a little slow-paced sometimes, it should bring the farmland of Dorset right before your eyes: fights, fears, feathers and all.
By Closing Time, the tone darkened – director Gabriel McCallum describes it as “watching something familiar turn unfamiliar”. Faced with the character of Arthur, played by the enigmatic Cameron Cook, just sitting, staring, the audience is presented with silence and stillness. Closing Time tortures its protagonist with the memories of his past: ‘Who is Arthur?’ ‘What did he do?’ ‘What does he think?’ – just a selection of questions that the preview mercilessly left unanswered, as both Arthur and the audience get lost in his nightmare of denial. Strikingly different from the other productions, it was a gripping ending to the impressive selection of plays that the NWF has to offer this year.
Tickets for each show will be available from £5 New Beginnings will be performed at 7.30pm on Tues, Thurs and Sat of 7th Week. Bad Faith will be performed at 9.30pm on Tues, Thurs and Sat of 7th Week. Roost will be performed at 7.30pm on Wed and Fri, and at 2.30pm on Sat of 7th Week. Closing Time will be performed at 9.30pm on Wed and Fri, and at 4.30pm on Sat of 7th Week
PHOTO/Dominic O’Keefe PHOTO/Chelsea White PHOTO/Matthew Parvin PHOTO/Samuel Ward