I saw two plays as a judge in Drama Cuppers this year: Jesus’ Cockfosters and Corpus’ James and the Giant Peach. Cockfosters was a 15 minute, two-hander piece of new writing, so a very bold choice for cuppers; the writing had a lot of potential and we tried in the feedback session to encourage them to expand it and turn it into a full-length play. At this stage, though, it was a little bit rough around the edges: it had some of the tell tales of clichéd student writing, with a few too many ‘fucks’ and some cringeworthy, unconvincing slaps, but there was a raw energy that shone through.
James and the Giant Peach was a wonderful experience, very much in the ‘Spirit of Cuppers’, full of passion and humour, with amazing performances by the insects. In the case of James the best advice that the judges had for the group was the need to tighten up the speed of some of the central sections. This was particularly true in one scene between the spider and James which tried to change the generally light-hearted tone and wasn’t quite successful.
The best thing, though, about James was the audience participation: clearly Corpus had turned out in force to support the performance – one advantage of a larger cast being the greater chance of knowing everyone in your year – and they were loving it. It really improves the feel for the judges if the audience is enthusiastic, and all four of us walked out in high spirits; moreover, a successful cuppers play tends to be one that makes us laugh, that entertains; it’s never easy to develop the emotional intensity for a darker or more serious piece in the 25-30 minutes that most cuppers plays take, and especially difficult in half that time, which definitely contributed to the slightly bewildering emotional journey that Cockfosters demanded from its audience.
One of the most enjoyable parts of being a judge at cuppers is the feedback sessions – the cast always need a bit of reassurance that they really have got potential, as both of our casts did, and it’s great fun to meet the director and writer, who often have a very different perspective on things from the cast: more cynical, exhausted and emotional, generally. I hope we’ll see much more from those involved in both these plays, and I expect great things, if their first toe-dips into the mad world of Oxford drama is anything to go by.