Michael Cartledge reviews Student Theatre at Glasgow’s eclectic New Works Festival
From 26 to 28 February, Cottiers Theatre was taken over by Student Theatre at Glasgow (STaG)’s New Works festival. This unstoppable force of student theatre delivered six new plays, each written by students, performed by students, and delivered to (mostly) students. Each night consisted of one 20 minute play and one fifty minute play, with a panel of independent adjudicators selecting one of the fifty minute pieces to represent STaG at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. These plays ranged from emotion filled historical dramas to light-hearted Scottish satires.
The first night began with Takeaway by Charlotte Smith. A beautifully farcical, somewhat accurate, take on life in the service industry, Takeaway followed a hapless barista forced to deal with the very worst of customers in her job at Café Nero. Light-hearted, tongue in cheek, and bigger than life, Takeaway nonetheless had a few tender moments which touched on the less than perfect private lives of its characters. Following this was Clara: Story of a Chemist, by Niko Single-Liertz. A period drama, surrounding the life of Clara Immerwahr, the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in chemistry in Germany, it was a much darker and more dramatic story than many of the plays at the festival. Dramatic and slightly unnerving it followed Clara being accepted to university, her marriage to Nobel prize winning chemist Fritz Haber, and her eventual suicide in 1915. Although the story told was excellent, the real magic happened between the lead actors. Clara and Fritz, portrayed by Beth Leishman and Clemens Zoller respectively, led the fascinating and gruesome story, as what seemed like a happy marriage took a very dark turn. Beautifully performed and directed, it was a marked departure from any other play within the festival and was astounding to behold. Truly, this play was the pride of the festival.
The second night began with The Goblin Market by Lily Kuenzler. An interesting piece of physical theatre, based around the titular poem by Christina Rossetti, about youthful innocence and sexual awakening. The Goblin Market was unlike anything else the festival had to offer. Intense and beautifully choreographed, The Goblin Market told the story of two young girls led astray through a dramatic and physically demanding piece. After this, a marked change in tone was brought about by The Search for the Hooded Phantom by Annie Saxberg. After the dark tones of the previous piece, this play was a generous dose of good, mostly clean, fun. A nostalgic look at the golden age of radio, it followed the cast members of a 1940’s-esque radio serial, The Search for the Hooded Phantom, who discover that this is to be their last show. The drama in the studio was intercut by their performances for the mics, as well as more than a few ad breaks. It also served to give a surprisingly accurate look at early radio, including the use of a foley artist. All-in-all, it was a comedic romp through an era teeming with nostalgia and character.
The third and final night brought with it a series of challenges, the foremost being the terrible snowfall. However, the festival persevered to put on its final two plays, beginning with Heroes by Rebecca Russell. In the new golden age of superhero films, this play offered an interesting take on what life might be like for a hero after their day is done. Four former costumed crime fighters are brought back together at the request of their old leader and end up discussing how they have all left their lives as heroes far behind (as well as pointing out how stupid and dangerous some superhero tropes are). The interactions of the four characters gave new dimension to a world already dominate by heroes. Following this, and closing the festival, was Ah Dinnae Kenby Maddie Beautyman. Truly a Scottish gem: unrefined and a bit rough around the edges. A Romeo and Juliet inspired tale set during another independence referendum, it followed a family of yes voters and a family of no voters on a preposterous romp about shortbread, spying, and murder in this true blue (or yellow) Saltire satire. Though it was by no means a bad show, there were still some issues. These partly stemmed from the overtly forced use of Shakespearean verse, which saw characters suddenly quoting Romeo and Juliet for no discernible reason. However, the main issue was that so much of the comedy focused on the actors rather than the characters, as it stemmed from the audience (largely made up of STaG members and friends) already knowing the actors. We were not laughing at the amusing antics but rather at friends acting daft (which is still amusing, but not because of the play). This is not to say that it was not a hugely funny play in its own right, but there was definite room for improvement.