Emily Fish talks to Jessica Murdoch, Alistair Henfrey and Geraint Owen about their experience with theatre in Cambridge so far.
How did you get into theatre?
Geraint Owen: My family are involved in theatre so it was something I kind of inherited.
Jessica Murdoch: I’m not sure exactly when I got into theatre, but I became a part of the National Youth Theatre a few years ago and when I started doing shows with them was when I realised that I really wanted to pursue drama.
Alistair Henfrey: 7 years old. The play: Our Planet Future. My role: Drip the Fridge. It was a really moving production and I hope to reprise my role as Drip on the Broadway stage in the near future. Or the West End. I’m not picky. But in all seriousness, the shows we put on at school were a really big part of forming my involvement in theatre.
Alistair and Geraint – having both acted and directed, which do you feel you are more likely to pursue?
G: Directing because I prefer telling people what to do rather than being told what to do. And also because you get to
watch something that was at one point just an idea grow into a fully-fledged production.
A: I think directing, mainly just because I love watching theatre. And when you’re directing you get to create the show that you’re watching, which means that it’s kind of tailor-made for you, so you get to watch theatre that you love.
What are your favourite things about Cambridge theatre?
J: The shows that you see here are just so good. It’s so easy to forget that all the people on the stage, all the crew, the director, the producers, everyone, are all doing a degree and creating these incredible productions at the same time. It’s not like we’re at drama school, where theatre is your work – here work and theatre are two very separate things and yet people are managing to create some of the best amateur theatre that I’ve seen.
A: Yeah, it’s so easy to take advantage of the shows that you see here – because so many of them are of such a high calibre, people can begin to expect too much of it. But it’s so important to remember that for a lot of these people the play that you’re seeing is their first foray into the Cambridge theatre scene.
G: That’s definitely my favourite thing: that there is absolutely no experience required to be a part of some of the most incredible opportunities that are happening. Your theatre CV could be completely blank and there is every chance that you could be a part of a huge show – you just have to audition or apply.
A: I think the diversity of shows that are being put on, as well, is something that is practically unparalleled. There are shows like Stuart: A Life Backwards that was in support of charity, the BME Macbeth in Lent Term that provided a space entirely for BME students to create theatre; you have three-hour Renaissance plays being put on at the ADC as mainshows and then the lateshow that night is a Footlights smoker. The different theatres – the ADC, Corpus, and all the different colleges – mean that there’s so much opportunity for a huge range of theatrical pursuits.
What’s been your favourite show to be involved in?
G: The 24 Hour Musical was amazing – being set a concept at 9pm and spending 24 hours writing, composing, directing, and finally putting on a mini musical was crazy and difficult but ultimately so rewarding. Somehow throughout the entire 24 hours there was constantly such a high energy despite the fact that none of us had slept, and that’s a great atmosphere to be a part of.
J: Come Back to Bed, because I got to snuggle with a boy for half an hour during preshow every night. No, no, it was really probably Stuart: A Life Backwards. Because it was based on the life of a real man, from Cambridge, and all proceeds went to a charity that supported the issues central to play, it didn’t just feel like we were putting on a play. It felt like we were doing something bigger. And that sounds kind of pretentious but when you get to do something that is so much fun with such a lovely group of people, and it’s also doing good, it’s hard to top that.
A: It absolutely has to be Deep Blue Sea, which I directed in Lent Term. The cast and crew was made up of the loveliest people who I know consider to be really close friends. It was a really warm group. And it didn’t feel like we were just trying to churn out another show; everyone was really invested. There was so much time and effort and hard work that went into making it what it was, but I didn’t really care that the final product was great and well received because the process of creating it was so fun.
What would be your dream show to put on or be a part of in Cambridge?
A: I have so many but I’ll try and whittle it down to three. Translations by Brian Friel, which is a charming little play that I almost got to do last term but I couldn’t get the rights. The Island, by Athol Fugard, which is about two prisoners on an island who put on a production of Antigone – it’s demonstrative of their lives and really embodies their situation. And finally Doctor Faustus, by Marlowe. I want to do a really sexy, burlesque production. It would be so fun.
G: Michael Frayn’s Noises Off would be mine, simply because it would be the biggest directorial challenge that I could set for myself. It involves co-ordinating so many entrances and exits and everything has to be so perfectly planned and timed that if I managed it then it would be incredible. I also just love Othello.
J: If I could play any part on stage it would probably be Iago (wink wink Geraint).
What shows are you preparing for right now?
G: I’m directing Two, which is the Corpus late in Week 7. It’s the first thing I’m directing in Cambridge and I’m really excited to work with Alistair, embrace the play’s pub setting, and monopolise on all potential for getting drunk. I’m also producing Fundamentally, A Stand Up Show, which is a one-night stand at the ADC.
A: I’m also a part of Two, which I’m Assistant Directing, and also looking forward to drinking at all possible opportunities. My next project, though, is playing Harry in Spiders, a student-written play by Kate Collins (Newnham) which was long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2015. Funnily enough, it’s not about spiders. It’s about a boy and a girl, who live in a squat. And double denim will be involved. If that doesn’t sell it I don’t know what will.
J: I’m also in Spiders with Alistair, which is really exciting that we serendipitously ended up doing a two-hander together. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and it feels quite real. It’s not trying to be literary theatre or trying to be clever. It’s just a play about two characters that tells a story and touches on some really interesting ideas. I’m also playing my namesake in The Merchant of Venice at the ADC – the stage is going to be flooded, so that’ll definitely be something to watch.
Do you have any advice for people who want to be a part of Cambridge Theatre?
J: Just put yourself out there! Just audition for anything and everything, pitch shows if you want, apply for jobs even if you’ve never done them before. There are so many great opportunities and you’ll never know unless you just give it a go.
G: And go and see as much theatre as you can. Every week there is such a variety of shows, you can never be bored. You don’t even need to worry about having to pay for all of it, because you can steward shows at the ADC and Corpus which requires practically no work and you get to see the show for free. It’s also a great way to network a bit and meet other thespy people.
See The Merchant of Venice at the ADC Theatre, 7:45pm, 16th-20th May. See Spiders at The Corpus Playroom, 7pm, 23rd-27th May. See Two at The Corpus Playroom, 9:30pm, 13th-17th June.