The New Writing Festival is an annual event showcasing the best of Oxford’s student writing. On this week at the Burton Taylor are four full scripts hand-picked by the OUDS committee from a number of submissions. The ethos of the festival include a commitment to improving the accessibility of the Oxford drama scene. For the writers, it’s a chance to have their script performed without navigating the theatre bidding process, which can often seem intimidating to newcomers. Many of the cast and crew have never acted or been involved in a show at Oxford before, and the festival provides the opportunity to do so with additional help and mentorship from the OUDS committee. Below, the writers have compiled their thoughts on what their script, and the festival as a whole, means to them.
LEAP OF by Jamie Murphy
Showing Wednesday at 9:30, Friday at 9:30 and Saturday at 4:30
The play was written three years ago now, so coming back to it for this project I couldn’t help but instinctively feel a little sceptical. That instinct has been proven wrong again and again. The brilliant enthusiasm of our director, as well as the immense talent of our cast and creative team have made me fall back in love with this play. And because it was written by a much younger version of myself, I have felt able to be unapologetically delighted with it. The person I am now could never have written this play – its lyricism, delicacy and quiet beauty are no longer in my lexicon. Hearing my words in the mouths of our wonderful cast has been a privilege. It’s a play about loss, belief, sisterhood, running away and flying girls. There’s no reason to be sceptical about this one. No reason at all. Come along. – Jamie Murphy
PLAGUED by Henry Waddon
Showing Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:30
In mid-June 2018, I finished my last A Level exam and, in-keeping with the cliché, decided that my holiday reading should vaguely relate to my upcoming medical degree. In Cardiff Central Waterstones, I lazily headed straight to the ‘Popular Science’ stand and was drawn to a copy of HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE by David France.
I would go on to read a beautiful, moving and insightful account of the realities of living at the epicentre of the AIDS outbreak, and the brave men and women who stood up in order to raise awareness about this terrifying and unrecognisable virus.
I knew that Oxford Drama encouraged a culture of trying to generate new theatre, particularly on topics about which you are passionate and engaged, and so I began to write PLAGUED, a story about how two men responded to the outbreak of an inconceivable, devastating virus. What’s more, during the era, New York and San Francisco were perceived as a safe haven for all kinds cultural experimentation, and yet these two cities would soon become razed by HIV and AIDS, an awful, ironic result of innocent liberty.
I do somewhat worry that I am behaving a complete imposter, writing about an era and location of which I have absolutely zero first-hand experience. Moreover, not being a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I deeply, deeply hope that my writing does justice to the genuine, authentic experiences of the characters, because this story was simply too important to not be told, and I hope I’ve told it right. – Henry Waddon
CUTTING ROOM by Arthur Charlesworth
Showing Tuesday at 9:30, Thursday at 9:30 and Saturday at 9:30
Set in the midst of the Midlands, this play is all about cuts. A single claustrophobic room with four desks, four characters taking calls, listening to a town complaining about austerity. They seem detached from the outside world – we never hear the other sides to their phone calls, and all we see is office banter. Gradually, however, things start to fall apart and their boss’ oft-repeated platitudes appear hollow. In trying to not be affected by the calls, they forget that they can be effected by the cuts. This is the first play I’ve ever written (I am not pretentious enough to call it my ‘debut’!) Nor am I pretentious enough to say it is about anything too grandiose. I chose the Midlands because that’s where I’m from – when was the last time you heard Josiah Wedgwood mentioned in a play?! Council budgets have been slashed up and down the country, and you need only step out of college to see that Oxford is no exception. Mainly though, the play is about life in an office, with every day people doing the same thing every day until it loses all meaning. It’s been fantastic seeing a thing I’ve written come together, and the directors Django Pinter, Lowri Spear, and the entire cast have done an incredible job. Hopefully they’ll be some laughs, hopefully some gasps, and I hope to see you all there. – Arthur Charlesworth
CONFESSIONS OF A COCONUT by Saraniya Tharmarajah
Showing Wednesday at 7:30, Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 2:30
Confessions of a Coconut was created through four years of research through a fellowship during my undergraduate career at Johns Hopkins. Born in London, I always found the strong sense of community Sri Lankan Tamils held onto to be so disparate from my experience as a Tamil in the US. Furthermore, I was interested in how second generation immigrants are able to forge a connection to their homelands despite not being able to return due to forced migration. Although some parts of the play are based on my experiences (the poop bit), most of the play is based off of qualitative interviews – with some parts being even verbatim. I crafted the composite character of Geeta through interviews of second generation Tamils in London. Some felt a strong sense of identity, others did not. But, I think all agreed that, “being Sri Lankan, being Tamil, adds a bit of colour and texture to our otherwise plain, English lives.” – Saraniya Tharmarajah