Being involved in theatre is the perfect way to avoid doing your degree... but simply sitting in the ADC audience can have the same effectPaul Ashley with permission for Varsity

Since beginning my degree in October, I have watched 28 student shows. This may seem like a lot, but I’m sure I have only just scratched the surface of what Cambridge’s student theatre scene has to offer. Being involved in theatre is the perfect way to avoid doing your degree, but if you’re too scared to audition, or too lazy for rehearsals, then simply sitting in the ADC audience can have the same effect! With just a singular Camdram credit to my name, I may seem unqualified to give an overview of the past year’s best performances. However, after rating and reviewing every show I’ve seen here in my Notes app, I am filled with an overblown sense of confidence that this is my calling. So without further ado…

“Despite an unfinished essay due the following morning, I bought my ticket at 6pm, knowing academia could wait”

Best Play: Summer and Smoke

Summer and Smoke was my second ever ADC show, and it exceeded all expectations. Nothing about the production felt amateur. It tells the tender story of a young woman named Alma, who’s longing to be loved and understood. The play was brought to life by Imogen Gray’s incredible direction, and Tabitha Tucker’s skillful set design, which complimented each other beautifully.

The chemistry between Alma (Sarah Mulgrew) and John (Ollie Flowers) gave me goosebumps throughout. In the second act, a collective gasp echoed around the ADC, as John turned away from Alma to admit he wouldn’t have made love to her. My heart shattered hearing this, a testament to how convincing the pair’s performances were.

Betty Blythe, who played Mrs Bassett, provided memorable moments of comedic relief in Alma’s reading group, easing up the audience in a production filled with tension. I truly believe that this cast and crew took Tennessee Williams’ script to its highest potential, and, without a doubt, it remains the best show I have seen in Cambridge. If Summer and Smoke passed you by, I can only apologise: you missed an undeniable five stars.

There have been a number of other incredibly strong plays this year. Fairview was an example of Camdram at its best. Despite an unfinished essay due the following morning, I bought my ticket at 6pm, knowing academia could wait. I walked back to the library later that night, confident that I had made the right decision.

The Normal Heart was another fantastic production, which featured my first cry at the ADC. This incredible cast and production team have so much to be proud of, not just in terms of the story they were able to tell, but also the £1510.62 they were able to raise for Terrence Higgins Trust.

“I hope this encourages you to go to those shows you know nothing about”

Best Musical: Merrily We Roll Along

Hidden away in Trinity Hall’s Lecture Theatre, this triumphant sold-out run was unfortunately missed by many. Merrily We Roll Along was my first venture outside of Camdram’s main venues, and knowing nothing about the show going in, I didn’t have any expectations. I walked out of Tit Hall blown away.

The musical tells a touching story of friendship, dreams, and greed. It progresses in reverse chronology, but transitional songs, led by the ensemble, ensured that the audience was never left confused. The cast did an outstanding job of tackling a demanding Sondheim score, with the live band, conducted by Charlotte Wan, being the cherry on top.

With a limited stage and set, Trinity Hall Music Society proved that you don’t need a fully equipped theatre to put on an amazing show. I hope this encourages you to go to those shows you know nothing about, and look outside of the ADC and Corpus Playroom programme, because if I had missed this, I would have been kicking myself!

Not just a passive audience member, I rate and review each show in my Notes appLucy Twittey for Varsity

Best Casting: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

When I saw this cast list go up on Camdram, I let out a little squeal in my room. Whilst this may appear an exaggerated reaction, I now confirm it was absolutely necessary. The concept of adults playing ambitious tweens ensures there’s always something to laugh about in Spelling Bee, and every speller in the cast played into this wonderfully.

After a standout performance in the Sweeney ensemble, Toby Trusted’s portrayal of Leaf was everything I had hoped for and more: silly, hilarious, and heart-warming. Matthew Weatherhead delivered his best performance of the year as William Barfée, bringing a charm that other Spelling Bee productions often lack. It was also brilliant to see Bolin Dai star as Logainne, proving to audiences that she’s not just a fabulous pianist, but a multi-talented performer. I went back to the ADC for a second round of this amazing musical, and the confidence of the cast had evidently skyrocketed since opening night, with improvised moments from Jessi Rogers becoming a highlight of Friday’s show!

Seeing the same names repeatedly being cast in lead roles gets boring very quickly, so to see a show led by some unfamiliar faces was a breath of fresh air. Casting choices in Spelling Bee took it from being a good production to a great one, and I cannot wait to see more of these performers next year!

“I flinched so hard at the gunshot that I accidentally threw my drink”

Most Underrated: Neighbourhood Watch

I watched closing night of Neighbourhood Watch on a whim, having previously written it off due to a three-star review. It featured a hilarious story of a middle-class man descending into madness, all in the name of creating a ‘safer’ community. As someone from a small town with an extremely active Neighbourhood Watch Facebook group, the script felt all too real.

Sam Thompson and Betty Blythe did a marvellous job of bringing this story to life, providing consistently hilarious performances, even in the play’s most tense moments. As Thompson desperately tried to explain that he was holding his beloved garden gnome, Jesus, not a gun, what had the audience in stitches didn’t go down so well with the police… I flinched so hard at the gunshot that I accidentally threw my drink, but losing those final few drops of Pepsi Max was a small price to pay for such a great show.

Any technical issues that plagued the original review had been eliminated by Saturday night, and I’m heartbroken that more people didn’t see this brilliant political comedy. Let this serve as a reminder to never let a bad review stop you from giving a show a try!


Mountain View

Comparing critique: Camdram vs the pros

Despite receiving excellent reviews, I feel that 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche must also be mentioned here! The Heong Gallery provided the perfect space for this play, but with a less established location the show was unfortunately overlooked by many. It told the story of five ‘widows’ at their annual quiche breakfast, which quickly unfolded into impassioned confessions of sexuality, accompanied by an atomic bomb. While this all sounds a bit absurd, it made for a hilarious evening. I left wishing it had lasted another hour.

I moved here without any knowledge of the student theatre scene, and now it’s the reason I can’t wait to come back in October. You don’t have to be involved in multiple productions to become immersed in Camdram you can just park your bum in your favourite ADC seat (F5) and enjoy it. I can only hope that next year’s array of theatre brings me as much joy as this one has.