✮✮✮✮ – Queen’s – Dirty Linen
✮✮✮✮✮ – Christ Church – Q&A at 6
✮✮✮ – Catz – Don’t Say Macbeth
✮✮ – St Hilda’s – The Last Leaf
✮✮✮ – Worcester – Quasimodo
It’s only 7pm, and the steward in the BT is asking to see my underwear.
It’s day three of Cuppers, the freshers-only inter-collegiate drama competition; for their performance, Queen’s have rejected conventional paper tickets in favour of lacy thongs. A few people look bemused; most, like me, are gleeful with their acquisitions. Sadly, we’re asked to return them as we enter the theatre, but disappointment is soon forgotten as we find ourselves in a meeting room in the House of Commons. Papers litter the conference table; a portrait of Her Majesty hangs rakishly on the wall. This is Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen.
The farce revolves around a committee of MPs in the House of Commons, meeting to address the latest tabloid sex scandal in which members of the House have been implicated. All of them, it soon transpires, are at pains to cover up their own illicit meetings with the new secretary, Miss Gotobed. Alibis clash, clandestine sex takes place behind the door, and the committee disintegrates hilariously into bedlam. All the actors are clearly having a riot of a time; Nils Behling and Lewis Pope in particular are in their element as MPs Cocklebury-Smythe and McTeazle, prancing around like something out of Wodehouse, perfectly counter-balanced by Chloe St George’s sphinx-like Miss Gotobed, enticingly indifferent to her clothes falling off as the play progresses.
Queen’s proved the success that can be had in taking an existing script; still, part of the fun of Cuppers is seeing new writing, often put together in just a week or two. Worcester’s Quasimodo adapted Carol Ann Duffy’s Mrs Quasimodo for stage; the script floundered a little where it deviated from the poem and attempted dialogue, but it was well-staged, with seamless, thoughtful choreography and live music that brought the poem to life. Catz’ Don’t Say Macbeth, presenting a disastrous opening night of the Scottish play, felt rather disjointed at times, but show-cased some promising talent; Anna Livesey’s Lady Macbeth in a Serbian accent is not to be missed.
One show stood out far beyond the others. Christ Church’s Q&A at Six, which sold out with queues spilling into the street, invited us to be the studio audience for a chat show interviewing ‘Thought Theatre’ writer Vernon Quebec. Our only instruction: ‘obey Brian’, the shy cue card holder who, mocked for his stammer, ends up derailing the entire programme to great hilarity. As in Dirty Linen, we were privy to some steamy backstage romps, this time followed by a much blacker twist; but it was the achingly funny performances of ‘clips’ from Quebec’s films that proved the highlight of the play. I was left weary with laughter and in awe of such a concentration of dramatic talent in one college. Tom Curzon’s writing is slick, the staging incredibly entertaining and impeccably paced; there was not a single weak performance among the actors. Charlie Tyrer must be mentioned for his brilliantly repulsive portrayal of Quebec, but every cast member deserves singling out.
Christ Church took three wins last year with Lamorna Ash’s play The Twin Paradox; it seems the college may have done it again. Whatever happens, Q&A at Six will undoubtedly be asked to re-perform on Saturday as part of the ‘Best of Cuppers’ showcase. I’d advise getting there early.
Drama Cuppers continues at the Burton Taylor Studio until Saturday 15th November.