Auditioning for student drama can be bloody terrifying. Whilst the brashly confident regulars pace around the room absorbing the extract and fervently muttering to themselves, you’re left holed up in a corner wondering what the point is of trying in the first place. It was after one too many of these that I turned to the Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society (CULES) and I haven’t looked back since.
CULES puts on two shows at the end of each term, one pantomime and one play. What makes it great for me stems from its founding aim: in the words of president Sam Cocking, “to bring theatre to those who don’t normally get to experience it.”
A varsity competition typically takes place against Oxford in each Easter Term. Whilst the final shows are targeted at students, CULES also puts on performances at primary schools, special needs schools and retirement homes. Not only is it geared towards an audience who can’t pop along to the Corpus Playroom every night, but it’s also put on by people who wouldn’t otherwise be involved with theatre. The plays are all written by students and, most crucially, everyone passes the audition, with extra parts crammed in if necessary. This is what makes CULES great for me. No competition, just good fun.
Letting everyone in raises the legitimate concern that some of the plays might just be plain rubbish, but I honestly don’t feel so. The fact that vastly eccentric Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams was in CULES says a lot about how serious it is. I’ve been a pimp in Dracula and a gay king in the Little Mermaid. Next I’m playing a philandering Yorkshire milkman, a role which I will relish. Cheesy puns and slapstick moments are so prevalent that enthusiasm is all that’s needed to make the plays come alive.
The result is something which it is exceedingly fun to be a part. I distinctly remember that in my first ever CULES show the audience were in hysterics and even we actors were craning our heads around the curtain to laugh.
Are our dramatics amateur beyond belief? Yes. Was the last Varsity match called a draw due to a lack of line learning? Yes. But in a way, this is actually part of the fun. There is undoubtedly a value and a place for serious theatre in Cambridge, and lots of quality stuff is on. Equally, there is a place for light-hearted nonsense too.