Racing Demon: vicars with problemsJohannes Hjort

Honestly, I had mixed feelings when I got the gig of directing at the Corpus Playroom this term. Calling something a ‘Week 3’ show made it sound like I had less than a month in which to create it, which, considering that the last show I directed had a rehearsal period of five months, did not quite feel like enough time.

I hid myself in a dark room and quietly screamed in panic. After I emerged, I accepted the challenge and got on with it.

A little background to this: I did not direct any of the fresher’s plays, but I had a director’s itch, so I pitched a play, fully expecting them to turn me down.

I was pleasantly surprised when they gave me the Corpus Playroom, which in my mind is a really exciting space.

My knowledge of the Cambridge theatre machine was lacking. I knew a few of the cogs; how to run auditions, who I needed on the production team, but what of funding? What of the technical side to the process? What about publicity? I knew nothing.

It was at this point that I reminded myself that the first step to being a good director is to pretend you know what you’re doing, and the second step is to ask other people when you have no idea what you’re doing.

I’ve been very fortunate in this. The more theatre you go to, the more shows you do, the more friends you make in this scene, and everyone is willing to throw in their five cents because, in essence, we are all working towards the same thing: creating the most vibrant and thriving student theatre in the whole of the UK. I was just the latest fresher willing to contribute.

I quickly ran through everyone I’d met in the ADC clubroom or in rehearsal rooms, to ask them a thousand questions about the shows they’d been in, directed, produced or just liked. I applied to a funding body, the Pembroke Players (who have been really lovely and helpful to me), and then set about casting people for the show.

I am very proud of the cast I assembled. I had some incredible people audition, and everyone who came through the door gave it their all, which was an honour to witness. I was surprised by the amount of second and third years who auditioned. Coming from secondary school, it’s very easy as a fresher to believe that you are in some way the equivalent of a naïve little Year 7, but in fact, we are all equal when it comes to what we do in our spare time. The second and third years I’ve cast are talented, committed, and have put their faith in me and my ability to create a play that doesn’t suck. Directing them has not been intimidating, but enjoyable. I’m always itching to get back into the rehearsal rooms and spend more time with the artists I both relate to and look up to.

The play is called Racing Demon by David Hare, and is about a group of vicars living in inner-city London, facing a brave new world that spells God with a small “g”. Whilst one vicar struggles to marry his socialist sensibilities with the rituals of his Church, another struggles to keep his gay lover hidden from view. A young vicar casts off his atheist girlfriend, for fear of offending his boss, and another vicar drinks herself silly trying to figure out why everyone seems so miserable.

The play resonated with me as a political story that examines how the Church of England is both a religious body and a British institution, steeped in traditions of the past whilst also struggling to accept what it is to live in the modern world. Cambridge has had its fair share of ridiculous traditions, and so the play has a particular relevance here. I couldn’t resist pitching it.

This whole process has been terrifying, exciting, and a huge amount of fun. The trust that Cambridge theatre has in its freshers is mind-boggling, and humbling. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in this past month.

Turns out you can actually get a lot done in three weeks.