With the annual arrival of fresh-faced first-years, eager to try everything they can find, sign up to every society, go to every lecture, it’s no surprise that the various cuppers competitions across the university use Michaelmas to get them while they’re keen. Drama Cuppers is no different, and so next week we’ll see a multitude of mini-plays descend on the Burton Taylor studio as some talented, and not-so talented, freshers attempt to impress with their grasp of the stage.

For those not actually involved, Cuppers is great fun. Turn up at the BT practically anytime and there’ll be something to see for the minimal fee of one pound. Whether you pick something randomly or support your college and your friends, it’s a great way to spend half an hour (Cuppers plays will be disqualified if they pass the time restriction), and it’s always fun to watch the reactions of the poor old woman who just happens to have spontaneously decided to see a play without realising that she’s chosen a piece of experimental theatre about nipples.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get comedy gold or a dramatic masterpiece. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have to practice your very best fake smile for when you meet your poor, untalented friend after the show. With plays which tackle traditional theatre battling with the inevitable mix ofnew writing and experimental work, the variety always leaves something for everyone.

For the wannabe-thesps, however, Cuppers can be a little less fun. Granted, you can meet nice people, get introduced to the Oxford drama scene, put on your first play; it’s certainly worth a go. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t all go to plan. Perhaps a behind-the-scenes rivalry between the girl playing Juliet and the one who thought she had the part in the bag (she played her at school. Mummy made her a lovely costume and Daddy paid for the auditorium). Maybe a break-up between the director and his lead after a drunken incident at Kukui (let’s just say it involved KY jelly, but no naked wrestling).

Whatever happens, the odd line-stumble or on-stage catfight (it’s never happened before, but this could be the year) only add to the fun of it all. It’s not supposed to win any Oliviers, but you never know what you’re going to see, and with bad plays as much fun as good ones, you can’t go wrong.

Details are always a bit sketchy at this point, with late drop-outs due to other commitments not uncommon, but there are a few offerings already getting us excited. Here are our suggestions of what to keep an eye out for:

Hamlet – Lincoln
Drama Cuppers just isn’t the same without a Shakespeare adaptation. Some may gawp at the sheer courage of a group of youngsters tackling the bard in half an hour, but it’s always been a recipe for success in the past. One of this year’s entries give the Great Dane himself a go, and it’s definitely worth a look. Perhaps we’ll see a sensitive and effective portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s most complex and volatile characters. Perhaps it will be just awful. Either way, Hamlet is a great way to spend a pound.

A brief Brief Encounter – Exeter
WIth the time constraints, cutting a classic doesn’t always work. Students at Exeter College, however, gets kudos for managing to get the editing process into the title. Choosing the iconic Noel Coward play about repressed English love, the text’s simplicity and contained story lends itself well to being condensed. With an enthusiastic and diligent cast and the gem that is Coward’s play, overlooked in recent years but back in the forefront with the cinematic release of Easy Virtue last week, this may be a recipe for success.

The Condensed Harry Potter
Speaking of classics, this year the seven Rowling novels will be summarised into half an hour. Granted, it’s been done before, but with potential for speedy costume changes, hammy acting, and the chance to save hours of catch-up reading before the next film, this is a must for any fan.

To be frank, in the competitive world of Oxford drama, most Cuppers competitors may never again be seen on the stage, which may or may not be a good thing. Each year, however, unearths a couple of diamonds in the rough who have gone on to success in the university’s drama scene. Here are just a couple of the Cuppers success stories:

Tor Lupton

Having just finished a massively successful run of A Few Good Men in a performance described as ‘exceptional’ in our five star review, Tor of Wadham is the actress of the moment in Oxford’s drama scene. Starting with directing J.D. Salinger’s Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut in Cuppers, she moved quickly on to a couple of musicals (she is also an accomplished soprano as well as a pianist and cellist) and the lead role in last year’s Alice in Wonderland. If she’s ever had a bad review, then I’ve never read it. Definitely one to watch.

Jen Chutz

Jen Chutz is the stage name of collaborative Exeter students Joe Schutz and Ken Cheung. Merging one’s names usually isn’t a great sign of either wit or intelligence, but this duo have both. Coming together to write TheiaeDoggue, pronounced The Dog, their mix of random humour and well-crafted comedic performances made them the toast of 2006, as they left with the prize for Experimental Theatre.

With a life-sized cardboard camel Clive, a South African with pigtails and a sombrero, and impromptu cameos from members of the audience, the play truly split opinion. In their follow-up Dolores Wears the Stares, described by one Daily Info review as ‘either terribly brilliant or brilliantly terrible’, Jen Chutz returned to experimental theatre and the Burton Taylor, to great and small acclaim in equal measure. They hope to release their signature fragrance, Jen for Men, in time for Christmas.

Anna Popplewell

The closest thing we have to a celebrity here at Oxford (just look at the fan-made Lego for God’s sake!), Popplewell of Magdalen College gave Cuppers a go in 2007. Obviously she was already the gentle queen of a fictional land, but that can’t be the only reason behind her success since then, can it?

As Lady Macbeth last year she proved to us all that she wasn’t just a gorgeous pair of lips, and despite the occasional mid-term Hollywood press junket, has made the successful transition from star to student. Rather annoyingly, however, she is the only one who can never return to Narnia (if the final film ever gets made) as Aslan stops liking Susan when she starts wearing make-up and liking boys. It’s probably the massively inappropriate Price Caspian love affair which started it.