The O'Keele SiblingsPoppy Lankester with permission for Varsity

This year’s CUMTS Freshers Musical ‘Beyond Today’ is a soft, sorrowful and stirring ode to the importance of queer love in a time of hatred and conflict. Set in rural Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it follows the story of Aoife and Molly, rival members of feuding families, who find solace and peace in each other and aim to bring around the end of generations worth of violence and hatred. A kind of Derry Girls/West Side Story crossover, this musical highlights the importance of coming together and bridging divides, a message extremely prescient in the current political climate.

“A soft, sorrowful and stirring ode to the importance of queer love”

Community was the conclusion of the story, and extremely apt considering the decision to include a ‘freshers’ week’ of theatre in the ADC community. In your first Michaelmas term in Cambridge, life can be confusing, scary, isolating – potentially even downright horrible (I may be speaking from experience). The project of these plays – and amateur theatre in general – is to provide a space to build a sense of creative community, to have the opportunity to experiment, to explore, to build together. Theatre should bring people together, for laughs, for making connections, for freedom to be creative and innovative, and to learn as a collective.

This ‘community’ feel was particularly strong in this year’s production. The ensemble numbers were particularly powerful, with a rich timbre and depth in the voices. The final number, where all stood at the front of the stage holding hands, singing about a brighter future, was a classic musical theatre moment – reminding me vividly of my own days assistant directing RENT. Directing an ensemble musical is terribly difficult, and I have to applaud the director Sam Misan for organising an ensemble this big in his first term of Cambridge theatre. There was a sense of togetherness and support – not just in the actors on stage but also in the audience reaction. In the final scene, as the two lovers embraced, the crowd went wild, whooping and cheering. I have never heard such an outburst from a late-show audience before – and I have to say that I was impressed.

“Theatre should bring people together, for laughs, for making connections, for freedom”

There were many stand-out performances in this production. Ava Fitzhugh’s soaring soprano solos were not only heartfelt and soulful, but conveyed a sense of earnestness that was reminiscent of Maria’s final plea to her family at the end of West Side Story. Finn Burke (Wilf Offord) and Conor (Luke Muschialli) would have completely embodied the ‘Jets’ if they had simply snapped their fingers a couple of times – they effectively captured the sense of angst, anxiety and fear of teenage boys caught in a generational feud. Particularly strong was Michael Burke’s (Matthew Weatherhead’s) solo, which had a strong baritone sound, and spoke of the beginning of the family conflict. It is a big stage to fill with one voice, especially when there is no set, and yet I, and others in the audience, remained captivated.

The choice to make the actors do Northern Irish accents was very daring, and I have to say I was impressed – the majority were extremely convincing. The first night was a little tentative and static in performance from the whole ensemble, however, I am sure this was heavily impacted by opening night nerves. The vocal quality throughout the whole show was incredible, and I had a brilliant time watching the show. Upon speaking to others in the bar afterwards, the sentiment was definitely shared.

“Community was the conclusion of the story”

I think that very often in the theatre scene here, it becomes all too easy to forget why we do amateur theatre in the first place. None of us are professionals, we are not getting paid. We do this out of the joy of meeting people, of connecting with people in a creative way, of creating a community that all works together towards a common goal. The idea of the ‘Fresher’s musical’ is to connect people not just in a horizontal sense, but also vertically – to share and transfer knowledge from the older years to the younger – to ensure that there is a sense of continuity and learning. As the UK government continues to crack down on arts funding, with as Sunak prescribing that all ‘nonsense’ arts subjects will be eliminated at A level, it is more important than ever that we keep the amateur theatre scene thriving, that we share connection and creativity amongst the new generation of theatre incomers. The message of this play was to look towards a brighter future. And therefore, I think every single person in this production should look ‘Beyond Today’, keep creating theatre and building community – I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Beyond Today is showing at the ADC Theatre from 15-18 November at 11pm.


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