Review: University of York theatre students showcase political theatre performances

A totally unbiased review of these sold-out shows

University of York second year theatre students did not disappoint their audience on 19th April as they showcased their political theatre performances. They composed their 30 minute productions in only four weeks and tickets sold out within just a few days of being released. After watching all three performances I can see why!

Operation Legacy

The first performance “Operation Legacy” was a historical adaptation filled with secret documents and government coverups. Whilst the army are shown to conceal years of colonial abuse, one woman who works in Hanslope offices attempts to expose the cover ups. The play fleeted between these two locations throughout, using lighting and projection to cleverly display the change of each scene and location. The change of scenes was executed skilfully by a projection at the back of the stage which gave the audience the date and place of each scene. The sound of the typewriter accompanied by the change of scene contributed to the historical feel of the setting and workplace atmosphere. The set, designed by Daniel Chen, was expertly crafted to capture the locations of this performance.

In an excellent scene, one actress stood on a desk shouting numbers and dates from the important documents, interrupting the speech that preached positive news instead of the catastrophes. This was a powerful moment and was emphasised by the intense bright red lighting and white spotlight. Despite the seriousness of the plot, the play featured several comedic moments which had the audience giggling away. The leading role, played by George Light, executed this humorous undertone perfectly with his classic patriotic soldier character commentary and bravado.

At the end of the play the actors all threw pieces of paper in the air and this was the perfect way to finish.

The Way to Happiness

From the moment we entered the theatre, audience members were engaged and active in the second performance “The way to Happiness”. The performance begun with an energy and enthusiasm that was maintained throughout. The leading character, performed by Zander, contributed greatly to this enthusiasm with his humorous and charismatic character, making the audience laugh, even when we weren’t supposed to! The plays slogan “How happy are you, really?” was used as a commercial like advocate for the church and worked tremendously well as a comedic punch line. The plot had sinister undertones, portraying the death of a journalist and the church of “Seraphim” as the suspects who are put on trial. The lawyer, played by Immy, tackles the churches true purposes and investigates their ominous use of pills for all members of the church.

Beginning the performance from the aisle in the audience was engaging and effective.The participation with the audience was sustained throughout the play and we acted as the jury, speaking and nodding during the court scenes which made this play even more thrilling! After a “not guilty” verdict, the final scene shows the judge taking off his robe at the foot of the journalist’s body to reveal he is in fact part of the church. The audience’s audible gasps emphasised the success of this plot twist.

One of the most exciting moments in this play was the ritual scene. In an attempt to summon the prophet, the church performed a ritual in red strobe lighting accompanied by an unnerving soundtrack.

A Minor Concern

The final play took us back to childhood and the innocence of youth. “A Minor Concern” inserted their political stance more subtly in this performance. The actors who play young children continuously refer to a “monster” throughout who is destroying the school playground. The “monster” is later revealed in the final scene to be global warming. The sound effects of forceful winds and lightening alongside the voiceover of real life headline news to reveal the destruction of climate change was powerful and emotive in the final scene.

The set for this performance was striking, creative and encompassed the theme of denial in subtle and clever ways. For instance, in the book corner the word of the week was “denial” and the words “safe place” were broken and ripped. Kira Thomasson’s set design of a scaffolding climbing frame provided the framework of the setting and was vibrant in colour, alluding to the childlike and playful characters.

Humour was at the heart of this performance, as evident in the audience’s reaction to the childlike sense of humour executed brilliantly by all actors and actresses.

Speaking to “The Way to Happiness” director Lianna Rowlinson gave us insider information on the process behind directing as a York student!

She spoke of the challenges faced with directing the performance and how she overcame them. She said: “I would say one of the main challenges was directing people the same age as me. I think the other directors in the other groups would agree with me when I say it’s extremely difficult, you never quite know your limit to how much you can say to someone, or how much authority you have as a director. Obviously in the real world it’s really different, but when you’re faced with directing your friends it lacks that professionalism it sometimes needed.”

When asked where she found inspiration for her plot ideas, Lianna said: “Our plot developed from a pitching session the producer, Karina, and I asked our writers to do. We had three pitches all together but our writers Maddie and Dylan pitched the idea of a cult and the denial of reality, as well as the question ‘how much do you have to believe something until it becomes reality?’. Scientology was our biggest area of research, we very very loosely based the cult on Scientology, almost making a mockery of it. The ideas just rapidly grew from there and didn’t stop growing until the Wednesday before the first show.”

Lianna summarised her experience in three words: “Busy, exciting and challenging.”

Huge congratulations to all the cast and crew of these three plays. Don’t miss the chance to see them all perform on stage again for their full scale production in September!

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