'Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t' Act II, Scene II Hamlet
University theatre can famously be a bit of a mixed bag. One can never be sure what to expect when walking into a venue knowing that the audience are about to watch a society-led anthology performance. This was certainly true in my case, when I stepped into the dimly lit upstairs of the White Bear and prepared myself for UoB Falstaff Society’s Lit Live: Off With their Genres! By the interval it became clear that whatever expectations the audience walked in with, the production intended to play with them - and this was unquestionably a good thing.
The central theme of each of the six short comedic pieces was that of a genre mix-up. This ranged from simple, creative mix-ups such as the Bee Movie as a horror, to the absolutely bizarre: Virginia Woolf’s letters retold as a dark comedy featuring a creepy puppet master. Joining its ranks was the utterly surreal The Snooty Ghost, described in the production’s own programme as: ‘A fishmonger, a patient gardener and a kitten-guzzling ghost in cahoots. Me neither.’ Some of the most effective pieces were subtle in their genre bending. In a meta-theatrical and panic stricken 10 minute rendition of Romeo and Juliet, the mix-up came in the form of Tybalt’s final words, which were humorously replaced with the ‘Tears in Rain’ monologue from Blade Runner.
Each of the pieces had a mad, distinct personality and in this way the overall production felt somewhat reminiscent of a cabaret. The staging and sound design reflected this, with the stage being left mostly bare with actors bringing on their own props and music being used to introduce each new performance. Here, the focus was not on flash, but on the creativity of the pieces and the fun that the actors were having.
What struck me was the effective pacing of each performance. The succinct and witty portrayal of Macbeth as a comedy featuring, for the most part, only Lady Macbeth and her husband, came directly after the hilariously bizarre ensemble-led The Snooty Ghost. This thankfully allowed the audience to breathe. Due to this contrast, along with hilarious writing and acting, these pieces stood out as two of the most memorable highlights of the production.
Of course, with such a variety of manic ideas and over the top comedy, at times it felt like some of the pieces lacked direction. The acting, on occasion, also fell short. But these pieces were never meant to be professional, polished pieces of drama. They were meant to be exciting and lighthearted plays showcasing the creativity of UoB students. They showed that you don’t have to be a theatre school graduate to enjoy watching, creating or performing drama. The pieces were meant to be fun. And fun they were. I left the theatre with a visible smile on my face - at least it would have been visible, if not for the the dimly lit upstairs.