A return to normality has never been so striking. Following almost a year without live theatre, Michaelmas 2021 saw Cambridge students return to the stage. The Varsity Theatre team sat down to discuss the best performances they saw this term.

Fergal Jeffreys

Maia von Malaisé as Mouth in Beckett Shorts, directed by Phil TarrantPhil Tarrant

The most impressive theatre I’ve seen this term made great use of space. In Week 3 the ADC stage became an empty curb, a prison Moses and Kitch in Pass Over can’t seem to escape even when the stage lights dim at the interval. Christ’s May Week production of A Comedy of Errors embraced the clutter of the script with a performance at all angles – the characters wandered into and around a bemused audience. By far the most striking though was Beckett Shorts at Kings Chapel. This collection of the playwrights late work was staged by the college drama society in the cavernous gloom of the nave. The combination of profound natural darkness and the echo of 16th century acoustics transformed what was a fairly plain collection into something else: otherworldly, disturbing and utterly engrossing. The final play of the trilogy – Not I – was simply the best performance I’ve seen at Cambridge. Maia von Malaisé was ‘Mouth’, a single mouth lit in pitch black recounting an unnamed trauma. The monologue spoken is a complex scattering of words which clump together in a single outburst of injury – Malaise’s interpretation seemed to perfectly capture Beckett’s troubling substance and the audience was left in silence long after the lights went up. Its these kinds of productions, staged off the beaten track, that are often the most memorable. Read more.

Stanley Lawson

Rehearsing Great Mother - Iya Ayaba, directed by Mojola AkinyemiElise Nwokedi

I’ve been lucky enough to review lots of brilliant, inspiring student theatre this term and to have seen even more - the sheer variety of theatre and breadth of talent that students bring to the Cambridge theatre scene never fails to impress me term after term. I’m sure I won’t be the only critic to pick out The Writer as an exceptional production, it’s clever direction and exquisite acting making it a fantastic start to the term – it was the kind of production which was a pleasure to write the review for. There were many other excellent shows, both at the ADC/Corpus and at other venues, which are far too numerous to mention here, each one a display of the dedication and originality of Cambridge’s theatre community. New work from student writers was plentiful; musical theatre offerings included Antigone, Astrid and The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Murdered. New writing was not limited to musical theatre however, one of the most compelling new plays of the term was Mojola Akinyemi’s Great Mother – Iya Ayaba. A personal favourite of the term was CUOS’s production of Denis and Katya which was emotionally devastating and an brilliant example of contemporary, incisive theatre. Read more.

Bethan Holloway-Strong

Michael Olatunji as Moses and Joe Harrington as Ossifer in Pass Over, directed by Adedamola LaoyeEbenezer Boakye

My favourite theatre experience this term was definitely seeing Pass Over at the ADC. It was one of the most beautifully crafted, powerful, and meaningful theatre productions that I have seen in my time at Cambridge. The production design was masterful, expertly transforming the (sometimes unforgiving) ADC stage into a believable street corner. The attention to detail really elevated this production, from the music choices that perfectly complemented the action to the meticulous set dressing. Beyond the production design, the acting was truly spectacular: the small cast worked together really well, keeping the audience tightly engaged for the entire play. Michael Olatunji and Ditie Eradiri were an incredibly strong pair in the main roles, and their acting choices were bold and skilful. Pass Over left me deep in thought for hours, and I felt really lucky to be able to see such a high-quality production on a Cambridge stage. Read more. 

Emma Robinson

The poster for The Writer, directed by Imani ThompsonThe Writer Production Team

There has been some brilliant, basically professional quality, theatre this term. Recalling Adedamola Laoye’s direction of Pass Over or Imani Thompson’s for The Writer, I think the success of some performances was due to decisive, consistent and nuanced directing. However, there has also been some exciting collaboratively created performances. Having heard from people who’ve been involved in the rehearsal processes for The Old Bailey Alumni Network and Show Me the Monet, it’s evident that the un-hierarchical, generative rehearsal process is hugely enjoyable. And that this then leads to a show which all members of the cast and prod team can take a unique sense of ownership and pride over. Already, having some more devised plays and sketch shows to look forward to next term, I, personally, can’t wait to see a new, less defined, creative space open-up for people who want to do more than just act or write or direct or improvise. Or better yet, for people who are scared to branch out from one role, and find within devising the opportunity to try something slightly different and yet still connected to the role they usually chose.  

Jasmine Regan Feldman

The poster for The Marriage of Figaro, directed by Louisa Stuart SmithVictoria Chong

This Michaelmas, Cambridge Theatre pulled out the stops to deliver their smorgasbord of exciting performances in the first normal format since Lent 2020. It's been great to get back to live theatre and see the performers take full advantage of fewer restrictions to put on some truly fabulous shows. Seeing people pull out all the creative stops in an almost celebratory manner has been a pleasure. The highlight show of the term for me was certainly Trinity College Music Society's The Marriage of Figaro, epitomising all that the un-restricted arts can be. The ethereal setting of the Trinity Chapel provided the perfect performance space for the opera, which was extremely professionally produced and accompanied. Though opera can sometimes feel inaccessible and reserved for those 'more cultured', I found TCMS's performance to be very welcoming. I hope the spirit of the production lives on into 2022, where I look forward to another year of stunning Cambridge Theatre. Read more.

Tom Howlett

The cast of Dogfight, directed by Cat NicolKate Caspari

Dogfight was the most interesting show I saw this term. Ambitious both in scope and style, it provided all the high energy musical performances I was hoping for without diluting the darker aspects of its subject matter. It’s musical performances and arraignments were fantastic, a testament to the exceptional talent in Cambridge. A particular mention should go to Jemma Starling, the musical director who not only provided an original score for the dialogue scenes but also set the pace of the show. Dogfight has breath-taking vocal displays, interesting writing and thoughtful directing but at the end of the day is carried by its musical direction. Dogfight isn’t a commonly staged by students - it's unusual to see it performed. The passion required by its production team to go off the beaten track and stage this show is evident in every movement, line and song the actors preform on stage. I hope I get to see all of these performers and directors again but if not at least I got to see Dogfight. Read more.

What did you think of Michaelmas 2021 in theatre? Send your thoughts to theatre@varsity.co.uk