Getting the Most Out Of Cambridge Theatre

Alexander Groes 20 November 2016

Whether you’re a budding Footlights member, a would-be reviewer, or just a casual audience member, you’ll soon find that theatre is ever-present in Cambridge. You have only to look at one of the church railings to notice how many plays are on in Cambridge, in how many different venues, and involving a ridiculous number of people. With the Freshers’ plays coming up this week in both ADC and Corpus, the time is ripe to discuss this inescapable aspect of life in the bubble.

Some start earlier than others, but at some point, you will go to see a play in Cambridge, and it will probably be memorable, for good or bad reasons. Mine was ‘All My Sons’, my first experience with Arthur Miller. (Honestly, it was a bit of an underwhelming note on which to start the Cambridge theatre experience). In fact, I did a lot of socialising in first year by going to plays with people – easy to orchestrate if you do reviews and can offer them free tickets. An even better plan is to befriend someone who reviews and get their free ticket. One of my best college friends (with whom I saw ‘All My Sons’, in fact) is a good catch, because she almost always offers me her free theatre tickets. As I split my free tickets between her and my boyfriend, the deal isn’t quite as good for her, but I’ve found a system that works incredibly well for me, and allows me to go the theatre often with very little expenditure.

Expressing an opinion about a polarising piece of art can be one of the most nerve-wracking things on earth when you’re among a group of people you’re not familiar with. Personally, if I really hate a play, I find it hard to put up with people who like it. This isn’t to suggest that one play should the be-all-and-end-all of your relationships, but it can be useful exercise. Often, what you like or dislike about a piece of art (in this case, a play) can illustrate a fundamental difference or similarity in your personalities/philosophies, which is useful information for your friendships in the long-run. Anyway, don’t take any of this too seriously. Going to the theatre should be fun, and it can often spark interesting conversation – don’t fail to express an opinion on something because you’re afraid of what someone else might think. ( But if you’re unsure about what to say, ‘It was a little pretentious’ is always a safe place to start, because nine times out of ten, that’s probably a fair assessment.)

Once you’ve done the rounds with a few plays, you’ll soon be able to play ‘Guess the actor’. You know when you’re watching a film, and you suddenly think you’ve seen one of the actors somewhere before? Cambridge provides the opportunity to play a much more personal version of this. The same actors turn up over and over again, and you can have fun recognising them in their many guises. I spent a year calling Ryan Monk (now graduated) ‘the northern shepherd’ because I’d first seen him play that role in a version of ‘Oedipus’. If you can’t remember where you’ve seen an actor before, never fear! Just turn to Camdram, Cambridge Theatre’s very own IMDB.

Once you’ve seen enough plays, you’ll start to realise that Cambridge theatre is a genre in and of itself. There’s the actor who plays every actor the same way. There’s the one actor everyone raves about but who you think over-acts. There’s the big ADC show that get five-star reviews despite being damp squibs, and then there are the Pembroke Cellars shows, cobbled together on a shoe-string budget, that are fantastic. There’s the rush to get tickets for the panto (which is well worth snaffling a ticket for) and perhaps the one other show a term that gets inexplicably sold out early on. There’s endless Shakespeare, because it’s handy having no performance rights, and the licence to set the play in whatever time period you like and gender-swap to your heart’s content. There’s the ever-present and mostly-dubious interpretive dance and physical theatre. And all the while, you can silently (or openly) stake your bets on who’s going to be famous in ten years’ time.

The whole theatre sub-culture is busier than in Cambridge than at any other UK university and for that fact alone, it’s really worth exploring. No one is asking you to become a luvvie, but do try to get out there and see some plays. Who knows, maybe one day you can tell your future workmates about how you once had a conversation with the future Mitchell and Webb in the ADC bar. They won’t know that you actually still resent those thesps for pushing in front of you for a drink.