Go to the Burton Taylor pretty much any time in 5th week, and you’ll be met by fresh-faced first years, keen to show their Cuppers entry. At only £1 and taking up half an hour of your time, Cuppers is one of the best opportunities to see the range of dramas that Oxford has to offer. Cherwell’s contributors give you their take on the plays to look forward to…
A group of St Hugh’s freshers are performing Punk Rock by Simon Stephens, a contemporary play that explores the complexities of the transition from childhood to adulthood for a group of affluent A-Level students. The flirtation, bullying and spontaneous interaction between the teenagers within the play creates humour and energy, yet there are also elements of heart-breaking darkness that expose the cruelty of teenagers desperately trying to mask their own fears. Based on his experience as a teacher, Stephens describes the play as ‘The History Boys on crack’ and we chose it because we felt that we could relate to both the characters and their situation.
In recent years, theatre companies such as Belt Up, Les Enfants Terribles, Dumbshow and The River People have brought dynamic, entertaining and engaging visual and physical theatre back to the forefront of the small-scale stage. This in mind, a number of us Keble fresher theatre fanatics spent a few days finding a play in a similar vain: one we thought would be suitably silly as well as vexingly thought-provoking. After stumbling through the odd Caryl Churchill and a couple of Ionescos, one of the cast introduced us to Anthony Neilson’s “Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness!”, a bizarre and brilliant suitcase comedy with oysters, pimples, pearls and the occasional planet. Two weeks into rehearsals and we’re thrilled to have found it: half our rehearsals have been spent studiously pouring over the text, the other half messing around with Neilson’s absurdly weird and wonderful characters. Whatever happens, we’ve had a ball – if you’ve got half an hour to spare (and if you’re also a fresher doing a humanity subject, you really have no excuse), come and spend a quid on what may well be an amusing and absorbing thirty minutes.
Brasenose are putting on Stoppard’s Dogg’s Hamlet, a bold and exciting choice, requiring the actors to speak a significant chunk of their lines in the language ‘Dogg’, which uses English words but with completely different meanings. Hardly what I would call ‘cheap and cheerful’, but James Fennemore, the director, seems relaxed about calling it that. Happily, he also seems to have grasped the spirit of cuppers: everyone who wants to be is in the cast, even if that means having nine women and one man, and they’re enjoying getting to know each other and those with experience are mingling easily with the drama virgins. It’s always sad when there aren’t any scientists in the cast, but that’s hardly James’ fault. I’m very excited about BNC cuppers – a hilarious play put on by a fun-loving cast: what could possibly go wrong?
Sex… It’s a complicated affair. Sex is about communication. Sex is about interpretation. It’s about connecting words and actions; actions that do not always reflect the words uttered. When she says no does she really mean yes? Is he just saying yes when he really wants to say no? This moment in history is unprecedented in terms of the legal protection on paper for sexual abuse, yet the number of successful prosecutions for sexual harassment or rape is still exceedingly low. Inspired by recent high profile cases, this play attempts to highlight the complexities of human sexual relations and to understand the underlying forces and attitudes of the individuals and of society in interpreting the roles of the victim and of the aggressor. Mens Rea is a detailed look into the complexity and subtlety of both verbal and physical communication and the dynamics of power in one of the most important and common acts in human life.Come see the world premier of Mens Rea, Thursday, November 10th at 4.30 pm at The Burton Taylor Studio.
Eight Merton Freshers will be putting on a production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman (which first premiered at the National in 2003). Director Julia Doyle explains that the play is the story of a writer of quite dark fairytales who is taken to the police station following a string of copycat murders. In the half hour Cuppers performance time the Merton team will stage a couple of fairytales, cutting back to the police interrogation scene in-between. Julia tells me the juxtaposition of the small tense scenes with the police with the full-cast performances of the fairytale sequences will be one of the most exciting aspects of the performance – ‘it’s different’, she says, ‘and very dark, but there’s a lot of black humour too!’ She praises the opportunities that Cuppers gives to first-year thespians, the open choice of play and the chance for lots of people to get involved. When I ask why people should go and see this particular Cuppers entry she laughs and tells me ‘because it’s going to be good!’
God is dead and we have an overwhelming urge to get laid.This is a play with no beginning, middle or end. Two Ancient Greeks in Athens are about to see a play they wrote and are acting in. But what if the audience are characters in another play? And someone else is watching them? Or what if nothing exists? What if they or we are all in somebody’s dream? Described by some as “bullshit” Magdalen Cuppers entry isn’t Theatre of the Absurd it’s just absurd. Yes, it’s written by Woody Allen but that doesn’t mean you have to be a New York quasi-intellectual to enjoy it. To be honest it’s more reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally. A multitude of contradictions and questions: explore the ideas further at the Burton Taylor Studio Wednesday 9th November, 7pm.
Duck Variations by David Mamet is not really about ducks. It’s a play about two old men sitting on a park bench debating the possibility of happiness. Yet, in true cuppers style, things are never that simple.We have kept the same script but re-imagined the scenes, jumbled them up and spread them across time and place, gender and age to explore just how we find happiness. We’ve got lonely clowns, young lovers, hyper children, and yes, a pair of bickering old men. Yet all are united by their conversations on a park bench. Its turned into a sort of Godot + sex + ducks + climate change. It’s all horribly arty and I love it.It also happens to prove quite a nice double bill of American theatre with the other of Univ’s entries into the festival, Autobahn by Neil Labute, which explores the hilarious and sometimes unsettling goings-on in the front two seats of a car. Expect people going round the bend, relationships moving into fifth gear and the bumpiest stationary car ride you’ve ever been on–to pick but a few of the many driving related gags possible.
Cigarettes & Chocolate is a radio play by Anthony Minghella, writer and director of The English Patient, and The Talented Mr. Ripley among others.It is a gem of a play. The story is short and sparse, like the play.It centres around Gemma, who has stopped speaking. Her anxious husband Rob and various of her friends all try to talk to her, including the friend who’s in love with her and another who’s been having an affair with the husband.None get a response and yet by talking to her they all find themselves learning something about themselves. It’s therapy in all but name.Gemma tells us in the final speech of the play that people are always “saying so much to say nothing”; that silence now has a comfort to it that before was only provided by the eponymous ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate’.The production will be simple and direct, like the writing. Come and see it! Cigarettes and Chocolate is being performed by New College on Friday of 5th week at 8:30pm.
Balliol ‘Room 253’, Balliol’s entry for Cuppers 2011, is an original work that focuses on a single hotel room over four consecutive nights. Through the room, multiple people unwittingly become intertwined with each other, coming to intimately affect each other’s lives without ever meeting. The cast consists of all the dysfunctional denizens of the suburban middle-class – the frustrated wife and her oblivious husband; a philandering businessman and his bitter ex-wife; an educated, high priced call girl desperately trying to keep up appearances and her eternally worried mother. Through the medium of the hotel room we gain the briefest snapshots of their lives, and see them unknowingly connect in ways that become increasingly both comedic and tragic.
The year is 2006. On the way home from a hard day’s campaigning, a young, unknown MP finds himself jeered at by three mysterious London vagabonds. “Hail to thee, Leader of the Liberal Democrats.”“Hail to thee, King-Maker.”“Hail to thee, Deputy Prime Minister.”Nick Clegg’s story begins… The Tragedie of MacClegg is a Shakespearean look at the political career of our beloved Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. It isn’t a ‘political’ play in that we do not attack Clegg or his decision to join the coalition; his ‘Tragedie’ in how he was transformed, almost overnight, from being the new political hope of Britain to being represented as its latest love-to-hate villain. A brand new tragicomedy for the modern age – there will be laughs, tears, and one serious message for all future political generations: “I dare do all that may become a Lib Dem;Who dares do more is none.”
‘Choosing a play is always difficult, but from the moment I met with my cast, I realised the simplest thing would be to work with the raw “talent” that we had. The Ugly One is a play about the intertwined relationship between beauty and success. Do you ever worry that you are “unspeakably ugly”, but have failed to notice before everyone else? To what lengths would you go to claim the power to which beauty entitles you? Marius von Mayenburg’s absurdist satire aims to blur all notions of identity with fast-paced dialogue and a ridiculous doubling-up of characters. We endeavour to leave the audience feeling entertained and slightly confused. ‘
“You see us as you want to see us in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.”In 1985 The Breakfast Club was released in cinemas to immense critical acclaim. It was lauded as the greatest film on teenage life. Now, for the first time, St. Catz are taking it from the screen to the stage in what promises to be probably the most epic half-hour of your life.Set in the detention room of an American high school, The Breakfast Club follows five students from different cliques. Trapped together, they are forced to connect, reveal their deepest fears and expose their disenchantment at modern society. Who should see this play? Anyone who’s ever struggled with teenage problems. Anyone who’s ever felt alone. Anyone who feels that the world is heading down the wrong direction. Anyone who wants to see mildly attractive people kissing on stage.Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you, The Breakfast Club!