The National Student Drama Festival’s annual selection of the country’s twelve best student shows offers a feast of fabulous theatrical entertainment. Impact Arts‘ Beth Angella has selected the five best productions from this year’s festival:

  1. Cock – Battered Soul Company, Durham

What happens when a gay man sleeps with a woman? How does his boyfriend of seven years react? How does his boyfriend’s father react? And how does the woman feel about what’s happened? The performances in this modern play on sexuality were utterly incredible, realistic and tangibly heart-felt. The tug-of-war situation created between the boyfriend and woman over the sexually confused John was exhilarating and intense. Staged in the round, the empty space on stage almost symbolised the uncertainty and tentative curiosity of ‘broaching the other side’. The boyfriend’s father, although seemingly accepting of his son’s relationship, suddenly looked incredibly old-fashioned in his intolerant unacceptance that John didn’t want to label ‘what’ he was. Engulfed in pain-staking tension, this piece was mind-blowing as it questioned the very basics of human attraction and relationships.

  1. The Beanfield – Breach Company, Warwick graduates

Marking its 30th anniversary, this compilation of historical re-enactment, live action theatre and video documentary followed the story of the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’, telling the events of the brutal police action at the Stonehenge Free Festival. The play showcased the institutionalised violent state of mind of the police which led to the brutal arrest of hundreds of innocent festival-goers, separating families and causing severe injuries. Although the 1980s story was modernised, the piece preserved its brutal context by broadcasting interviews they had conducted with real victims and police officers involved. The play climaxed into an animalistic, chaotic performance when the violent police attacks caught on camera were physicalized on stage creating a bone-chilling head-rush as an insane human ferocity was witnessed. A gargantuan piece of work that made one feel excited, disgusted and exhausted whilst also raising fundamental questions of protection, violence and freedom in a policed society.

  1. The Toyland Murders – Nottingham New Theatre

It may be full of toys, but it’s not all fun and games when murder hits downtown Toyland in this satirical noir-style puppet play. Some of you may be more familiar with this production – an original piece from the Nottingham New Theatre, written, designed and directed by Ben Hollands, and first performed in June 2015; a fun, clever and witty piece of theatre. A student production on a lighter subject (although when Dep. Harvey B. Feltz is taken into the sewer and held at ‘gun’ point the heart drops), The Toyland Murders was an ingenious piece of story-telling. Featuring incredible voice acting and a clever design where you could see puppet and actor simultaneously, the actors seemed to become one with their furry counter-parts, creating a more dynamic and humorous experience for its audience to enjoy.

  1. I Can’t Breathe – Buckinghamshire New University

Written, directed, produced by and starring Buckinghamshire New University’s Modupe Salu, I Can’t Breathe is a 15 minute intense slap of raw energy that highlights the reality of modern racism. This issue was shoved down the audience’s throat from the beginning as a YouTube video of white US policemen killing a black man in 2014 was projected behind the performer just two minutes into the piece. The date and horrific event were enough alone, but when Salu started chanting lines of performance poetry on dealing with racism the piece’s dynamic tension seemed to leave the stage and penetrate its way into reality. Salu smashed through her barriers – not just the fourth wall, but also the social one of confronting racism to a predominantly white audience. Bearing her soul, she examined the various ‘colours’ of ‘ethnic minorities’: ‘tan, brown, yellow, black’, finally saying her name in conclusion to the piece. Without directly shouting ‘do something about this’, her clear anguish, pain and raw emotion struck this evident message into every audience member; no one who saw this should ever deny that racism will stop being an issue.

  1. The Addams Family – Durham Light Opera Group

A dysfunctional but loving family of wacky personalities takes centre stage in this hilarious dark comedy musical. Full of toe-tapping show tunes, terrific choreography and unexpectedly hilarious touches, Durham Light Opera Group created a sensational piece of theatre of a standard to match the West End. An excellent cast ensured heart-felt performances, with comedic touches at every possible moment, leaving the audience crying with laughter whilst feeling mind-blown from the character transformations and singing talent from every member of the cast in this faultless production.

Beth Angella

Image used with permission from Nottingham New Theatre

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