London Student Drama Festival: New Writing Competition - Semi-Finals Review

The New Writing competition, hosted by the London Student Drama Festival, is a chance for student writers from universities all around the city, and within the UoL, to get their teeth into playwriting. The competition, which had already been through its preliminary stages, narrowed the submissions down into 9 semi-finalists, putting on their performances over the course of two nights at the Pleasance Theatre and being judged by two professional judges from the London Theatre scene. I tottered on down to have a look as well.

 

23 Hours to Live by Bryan Chan - LSESU Drama Society

23 Hours to Live describes itself as a tragicomedy and this is best illustrated by a line half way through, when the main character, Charlie, discovers she’s going to transform into a zombie. “Am I gonna wanna eat brains?” she says, taking a bite out of a cookie. The story follows the final, you guessed it, twenty-three hours of someone who has been infected by a pathogen of some description and is supervised by the enigmatic “Dr Terminus” and her assistant. For the first few minutes, it’s rather hard to have any idea exactly what’s happening but that very much mirrors Charlie’s experience as she is brought screaming onto the stage. The play was, according to the writer, an examination of the actual act of dying and this it does well. The piece itself felt vaguely reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead in the mostly humorous treatment it gave death itself. “Dr Terminus”, for example, is suggested to be named after the final station at the end of a railway line. It was enjoyable, if a little intense at times, and was ultimately crowned by the good doctor’s assistant who gave a wonderfully funny performance.

 

In Transit by Molly Sweeney – Central School of Speech and Drama

After this piece was finished, the writer said that she envisaged this story as part of a larger play and it very much had that feel. Initially vaguely resembling a sort of Waiting for Godot vibe, the main character, an unnamed journalist, tells the story of how she’s ended up waiting at a station in a sandstorm for a train. The story she told was of a series of harrowing experiences whilst she was attempting to break through as a journalist. The piece, being extremely dialogue heavy - and every part of that dialogue, bar, I think, one line, coming from the main character – could have easily become too dense for an audience to properly appreciate. However, thanks to its use of physical theatre, and the interesting ways in which the two cast members illustrated each stage of the story, it kept one engaged throughout. Ultimately I enjoyed the piece but I struggled to see how, other than a couple of allusions, the piece was focused on climate change. It very much seemed to be more interested in the disconnection between people provided by a world changed by the media.

 

TBC by Jordan Belaiche – SOAS Drama Society

TBC is a play which would undoubtedly absolutely detest being categorized as “meta” and yet that’s exactly what it is. The entire piece is about student plays, and the theatre world in general, and spent twenty five minutes essentially directly targeting the entire audience, which was refreshing, and by extension, jabbing at itself. The ‘writer’ who spent the entire piece smoking on the right hand side of the stage put on layers of, what was presumably, irony and remained silent as she looked on at the audience. The idea which could have easily become gimmicky after the initial point managed to keep up its momentum and had the audience laughing consistently throughout. The playwright, afterwards, described the piece as ‘revenge’ for previous plays and this anger clearly manifests itself in the humour throughout. As if I needed any more proof for this statement, the conclusion of the play had the producer on stage murdering every other person involved with the “production”. Of all the pieces on the first night of the semi-finals, this one stood out as the funniest and the most interestingly done.

 

The Interview by Amanda Koh – Imperial College London Dramasoc

The Interview was a piece which didn’t seem to entirely know exactly what it wanted to speak about. Its main character, Alex, is shoved into a ‘waiting room’ which eventually turns out to be a waiting room for the afterlife maintained by the “respective higher power”. Given the fact that the most dominant character on stage other than Alex is his own thoughts, portrayed by an actor, who seems to play the devil’s advocate in all of his interactions between the other two characters, one would have expected perhaps some more interesting internal exploration. However, given that the piece also argues for the value of maintaining the middle ground between extremes (in this case two supporting characters who seem to have entirely different views to one another and indeed Alex) it seems that the ‘waiting room’ scenario serves as more of a platform for the characters to meet more than as a significant part of the plot or what the writer sought to discuss. As such, a less controversial platform may have been a bit more flexible.

 

The Women’s March by Carys Hughs – KCL King's Players

Carys Hughs’ “The Women’s March” was a tasteful and elegant series of monologues by various different speakers from varying backgrounds set at a Women’s march. The style of the piece was so simplistic that it stood out as an obviously heartfelt call for equality in a society which should have made this its priority decades ago. It’s a credit to the performers of the piece that each monologue felt extremely personal and engaging yet managed to entirely avoid being stilted or preachy given the presumably fictional stories they were supposed to deliver. It was simply a number of men, women, and others explaining why it was that they were at