Drama in Cambridge

by Judith Roberts on 14 November 2016


Alice Carlill is 23 years old, and is reading English in her final year at Lucy Cavendish. She enjoys baking, surfing in Cornwall and shopping – even though her wardrobe is already bursting. Alice was also the recipient of a Lucy Cavendish College student prize - Alumnae Association Prize for contribution to the Arts.

Drama in Cambridge

My time at Cambridge University has been marked by a number of different roles, in a number of different genres. I have played an exasperated Hermia, of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Beckett’s bin-dwelling Nell – for which, by the way, I was very much ensconced in a bin for the entire performance – and a calculating Lorcan Moon. I think I can say honestly enough that I haven’t hated any role that I have taken on. I like to credit myself with choosing carefully, but it is also testament to the huge variety of theatre that is on offer at Cambridge. There are the hubs of the ADC Theatre and Corpus Playroom, which boast both a main show and a late show each week and thus are faAlice Carlillntastic professional facilities, but I have done very rewarding productions elsewhere: an all-female ‘Richard II’ in Emmanuel College Chapel was a highlight last spring, as was a stripped-back ‘King Lear’ in Peterhouse Deer Park in the nights leading up to Halloween. And that is not to say that such revered playwrights as The Bard and Beckett are the only ones paid any heed here: one of the most raucous and enjoyable productions in which I have been involved was a Tarantino-esque, red-‘wine’-and-fake-blood-filled piece of student writing in my first term. Cambridge boasts what is perhaps the most active student theatre scene in the UK, but it would not be such without the huge amount of energy, drive and talent that each partaking individual brings. I have no idea how the ‘techies’ – an affectionate actor’s term for the technicians who work behind the scenes – learned how to distinguish one type of light from the other, or find the perfect sound effect, but I’m glad they did, because I don’t claim to have a clue about such things. I think a lot of them learned ‘on the job’, just as many student actors, like myself, learned their stagecraft by prancing around onstage and establishing what works. This is fantastic and should be celebrated and recognised as a tremendous skill and hobby in which to engage – alongside their Cambridge degree!

For myself, I have found participating in Cambridge theatre informative, challenging and engaging (side-note: yes, it’s frustrating at times, but isn’t everything?) It has, as I keep earnestly telling my Director of Studies, broadened my knowledge of theatre and thus enabled and benefited my studies. This is particularly the case when working with verse: Cambridge boasts many talented, intelligent directors who are able to draw out subtleties in you that you didn’t know existed. I have just come off the Cambridge American Shakespeare Tour’s 2016 run of ‘As You Like It’, which involved dedicating August to rehearsing in Cambridge and September to touring the play around the States, work-shopping and teaching at schools as we went along. Disclaimer: I have no shame – no one should, but that’s another conversation – in labelling myself a feminist, and have always been interested in issues around gender. Alice Carlill in rehearsalMy director was similarly inclined, and together we were able to create a Celia, whom I played, who was sassy, independent and intelligent. I do not play weak women, period, but the more I worked with Shakespeare’s text, the more I discovered that Celia is not, in fact, one by any means, and has been done a great disservice in many productions of the play that I have seen. She recommends to Rosalind that they flee together; she repeatedly reminds her friend how pathetic she is being in her word-games with Orlando.

In the end, our production was very gender-bending and embraced the sexual ambiguities of Shakespeare’s text. That, by the way, is why theatre is important. It helps us to explore the ‘big’ questions: ‘why are we here’, ‘how do I self-identify’, ‘how do I relate to others and what are the consequences of doing so?’ Forgive me, I’m an English student in Tragedy term, but I stand by my advocacy of literature – and especially theatre – in helping humans work out what it is to be human. If we had answered these questions already, we would not still be engaging with them. As it stands, we are. The ‘we’ to which I here refer is that of the Cambridge theatrical scene. And if you, my dear reader, have not yet seen this scene in its full glory, then shame on you: what are you waiting for?

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