Studiospace’s ‘DAT’ (Directors, Actors and Technicians) is the society’s annual opportunity for any members of the Drama department to propose and perform a piece of theatre of their choosing. As a result, this showcase of short pieces is invariably eclectic, often bizarre and always interesting. This year’s production is no different.
The four ten minute long pieces of theatre and onetwo minute film were considerably more experimental and darker in tone than might have been expected. As if to strip away any pretensions the audience might have had about the evening to come, Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin’s ‘Savage/Love’ was the inaugural piece. Arguably as much performance art as strict ‘theatre’, this mixture of physical theatre and poetry had no hesitation in tearing into the brash and aggressive in its exploration of the obsessive side of romance. Subversive and even courageous, the piece required precisely the abrasive performances Chloe Lytton and Charlie Mitchel gave it, though its heavy stylisation divided the audience like a knife down the middle.
It must be said that the rest of the evening veered rapidly up and down in quality. In second was ‘The Aviator’, a selection of scenes from the eponymous film, featuring the descent of the sanity of Howard Hughes layered with some gentle stylisation and physical theatre. In a way, a microcosm for the rest of the show, with moments of brilliance (Laura Marcus and Guy Woods in particular shining as Catherine Hepburn and Hughes respectively) popping up between periods of sluggish pace and somewhat unexciting physical movement.
Much the same could be said of Helen Wong’s two-minute long film ‘The Runaway’, a charming if decidedly un-inventive short about two children preparing to face an imaginary monster. ‘Rough for Theatre 1’, however, took the night in a completely different direction, as the staging of any Samuel Beckett play inevitably must. The courage of director Tom Younger to let Niall Potter and Natasha Nicholls take the stage to recreate Beckettian existentialist misery as part of a student showcase must be applauded; and, even if it slowed the pace of the evening down, the acting was engaging enough to carry it through.
If the first four pieces were at times odd and ambivalent, then the final piece was nothing of the sort. ‘Rosas Countdown Rosas’, Imogen Senter’s purely dance creation, was tight, fluid and comprehensive – and, more to the point, comprehensible. This dance routine developed into an exploration of experimental art being appropriated by large-scale commercial interests, in this case a sequence from the 1980s being hijacked by Beyoncé for a music video. The presentation of the feminine in consumer culture was powerful and enticing; given that the show up till then had been strangely uncertain of itself, this was a saving grace.
Challenging, eccentric, at times plain uninteresting, the 2016 incarnation of ‘DAT’ was saved by moments of brilliance good enough to lift the whole evening to its feet.