Cuppers is notorious for variety, and Saturday’s highlights certainly deliver, with everything from Irish nuns preaching sexual purity (and that was a comedy), to masked figures, and a re-telling of Quasimodo, from the point of view of his wife.
The day began with laughter. Regents Park’s entry depicted a Catholic school run by nuns and priests, where prayer is the only way to get through one’s O-levels and missing holy mass might just be the greatest sin of all. “Well aren’t you a fine pack of heathens”, Mother Basil exclaims to her class as they struggle to remember who is the head of the Catholic Church – is it the Pope or Jesus? – and Mary Mooney innocently enquires what sodomy might mean. Beneath the comedy, it is also a poignant look at the expectations of sexual purity placed upon Catholics, yet the lack of education given to ensure this; Mooney asks whether she is “still a virgin” after she has “blown the trumpet” of her friend’s boyfriend. There was even a heart-felt rendition of Titanic during Derrick’s declaration of love to his girlfriend – what more could you want?
Pinter’s Victoria Station is a significant change in tone: an intense phone call between driver 247 and his office. Eerie music plays across a dimly lit stage, an office to the right, a seated man separate to this, and behind him a body covered in a sheet. “You’re beginning to obsess me”, says the controller, as 247 describes Crystal Palace shining above him. Fraser Davidson delivers a particularly convincing performance as the controller, negotiating the link between the verbally abusive caller who threatens to make 247 look “like a pipe-cleaner” if he does not tell him where he is, to the progressively more concerned voice, suggesting trips to Barbados and chatting over cups of tea. It is a sinister look at love, both for a girl covered in a sheet on the back seat of a car, and for an anonymous number at the end of a phone.
Quasimodo saw a re-invention of the classic story we think we know so well. “Freak” and “village runt” are shouted across the stage at a flinching girl in green who is interrupted every time she begins to talk. The bells (represented by the piano) are her only comfort. In the bell tower, she meets Quasimodo and soon they are in love and married. But it is not long before Quasimodo’s love for his bells, for prettier girls, for the women in magazines he once detested, overpower his love for his wife. The use of chorus was particularly strong: gargoyles and shadows and shrieking cats. This come across most strongly as she tears out the tongues of the bells, represented by real, struggling people – a violent image of human destruction. The bells that were once her only salvation, she made mute.
Laughter, disturbance and poignancy have punctuated many of Saturday’s productions. New writing followed adapted classics, and the day boasted many impressive performance debuts from its actors. The high standard certainly gives us much to look forward to from those involved in the future.