Theatrical endeavour within the Cambridge bubble

24 November 2007

This week, BATS are staging its eagerly-anticipated Freshers’ show, Ibsen’s: A Doll’s House. Jessi Savage-Hanford took the opportunity to meet both the cast and crew and discover just how it is that a Cambridge show comes into creative being…

It seems to be the one forum that’s quite drastically lacking in Cambridge. Despite the inescapable onslaught of weekly student theatre, there is very little by way of theatrical feedback on process and experience from those directly involved. There are the (sometimes highly insightful) reviews that attempt to judge the artistic merits of a production, yet scarce concrete communication from the actors and directors themselves. It was for this reason that I decided to take up the offer of interviewing the cast of A Doll’s House, showing at the Queens’ Fitzpatrick theatre from Tuesday 20th –Saturday 24th of November. As an avid Cambridge / London theatre-goer, as well as an aspiring student director myself, I have strongly felt this clear absence of an active director / actor vocal contribution. This seems a great shame, considering just how much we could (in our joint status as amateurs, within this condensed little world of theatre) all learn from each other.

Thus, with a growing curiosity, I ventured into the lively Queens College Bar, to begin a round of interviews with, what seemed to be, a genuinely enthusiastic and thoroughly dedicated cast: all full of praise for the methods and artistic demands of their “innovative” director, Homerton second-year, Matt Bulmer. I found myself engaged in discussions covering, it seems, almost all there is to cover by means of theatrical procedure, from the very first instance of casting, to the last minute rehearsals leading up to performance and all else in between.

Firstly, from Matt’s detailing of the audition process, I came to reflect upon the phenomena of Cambridge theatrical interest itself: 130 students auditioned for this six part play. The majority of them were freshers, meaning that the new “generation” of Cambridge first-years have caught the acting bug, no different from, it seems, many a previous year. It was interesting to hear Matt’s approach: to auditions (in which actors were asked to read extracts of other naturalist playwrights such as Strindberg and Chekhov), to rehearsal schedule (six weeks in total, the first two reserved for workshops), and to exploration of character (with thorough examinations of, among other things, issues of power). I was also interested in his choice of potential acting techniques, such as with his preferred use of “Actioning”. I found the peculiar Stanislavskian exercises, which I’d never come across before, particularly exciting, but, it was also greatly insightful to hear from the actors themselves and their own take on Bulmer’s (potentially bizarre) directing methods.

What was very encouraging was how many of the actors had really studied the text, coming up with different interpretations. Pan Demetriou, (Dr. Rank) describes how, for him, it’s a play about conflicting and multiple sets of “responsibility,” for instance. Moreover, knowing the play and the characters, it was further informative to see what scene / aspect of the production the actors personally considered as being the hardest to portray, as well as the different characterization challenges presented. This was illustrated in Eve Rosato’s decision to play her character with more bitterness and strength, as oppose to the established “tendency to play meek and mild”. Overall, hearing about the actors’ different thoughts and experiences rendered anew the idea that rehearsals presented a truly exciting forum for theatre-related ideas. It is only unfortunate that further discussion so rarely takes place anywhere else within the little Cambridge theatrical sphere.