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Michaelmas Half Drama Report

A rich and exciting half of Eton drama kicked off with ‘The F-block Demonstration’: a crowd-pleasing display of technical accomplishments masterminded by Phil Labrum (JCAJ) and his new team of Farrer Keepers. This was shortly followed by the School Play Festival where 7 plays, written by boys and staff, were premiered over five days. For the first time all were directed by boys, as well as one recent OE, Max Himpe (who left AJC in the summer), making his professional directing debut in the Farrer.

The subject and the tone of the plays varied enormously, from Harry McNamara’s play An Aesthetic, a sparse Beckettian investigation staged in the Millington Drake Room, to Okolona River Bottom Band, a 1960s Jacobean heist in the Tarantino vein, written by Charlie Wade (TEJN) and George Williams (RS). Two experienced playwrights filled the Rehearsal room and the Farrer Theatre: JDN in his taught three hander Don’t Tell in the more intimate venue and JEF with his intellectual thriller The Undersigned  transforming the main theatre into the hold of a oceanographic research vessel in the 1980s. 

In the Empty Space there was a contrasting double bill: Henry Eaton-Mercer’s (ex JMO’B) Tracing Paper, where three journalists were trapped in a Pinteresque maze, and Ealing to Victoria, by Frank Baring (ASR), which saw a young man confronting his demons on a district line train stuck between stations. 

Mud was another first: a radio drama written by the F blocker James Newberry (AMM), recorded by a mixture of professional and student actors and released in instalments throughout the Festival.

The last night saw the rebirth of The Comedy Society, brought back to life with the help of ACC, as some of the College’s most irreverent and eviscerating comedians performed to another packed out audience in the Empty Space.

The Festival was followed by two contrasting house plays: in Moliere’s The Hypochondriac ML orchestrated the many musical and theatrical talents in his house in a beautifully judged symphony of satire. And over in the Farrer, with Rhinoceros, the boys of TEWH presented Ionesco’s absurdist vision of the growth of fascism. An arresting expressionist design from Fi Russell and original scoring from Will Kidner (TEWH) were used by director ASM to startling effect. Both productions had at their centre powerful performers: George Vines (ML) played Moliere’s obsessional invalid and Timon Greaves (TEWH) the lost but ultimately heroic Berenger.

The Caccia Studio then saw outstanding performances from Jake Ritblat as Falstaff and Roman Marshall as the future Henry V, in H-EO’s moving and evocative adaptation of Henry IV Parts I and II; Hal & Jack, the JMO’B house play. Here, the chaotic world of Boar’s head tavern was laced with echoes from the Weimar Republic in a powerful and seamless design by Amanda Stoodley.

Following the perennial examination showing of GCSE drama students in the Empty Space (an inventive physical theatre version of Greek Myths), Michaelmas finished with a triumphant musical extravaganza in the Farrer: AP brought hundreds of hours of meticulous planning and rehearsals to a pitch perfect conclusion with the JDN house play; Monty Python’s Spamalot. The technical accomplishment and ensemble precision was worthy of a school play and yet the joy and the warmth that came from the performers, to an auditorium bursting with people and laughter, was perhaps only possible from the ‘family of actors’ found within the one house. As we left the theatre, facing the week of trials to come, the strains of “Always look on the bright side of life” could be heard echoing through the cold December night. It was a fitting end to a dramatic half.