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Review: Falstaff Society’s ‘Lit Live’ returns to The Alma Theatre

The English society’s sell-out theatre festival was made up of five short plays and offered a thoroughly immersive and impactful experience for viewers.

By Marine Saint, Deputy Editor 2022-2023

For the first time since 2019, the Falstaff society put on a showcase of original writing, ‘Lit Live’, which highlighted the creativity and talent of student writers and actors alike. Held at the Alma Tavern Theatre last week, the English society’s sell-out theatre festival was made up of five short plays and offered a thoroughly immersive and impactful experience for viewers.

Falstaff society have previously expanded into student drama with the society’s radio production of ‘Wuthering Heights’ last year, but this year’s ‘Lit Live’ offered live opportunities to work alongside DramSoc, Spotlights, and other performing arts society members, who made up many of the pieces’ casts and production teams. First time producers Chris Leonard and Sophie Banks were the creative visions behind the show and skilfully ensured a smooth running and versatile showcase.

Chris Leonard told Epigram how ‘it was amazing to put on student written plays that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to be performed for an audience. I’m proud to have produced such great pieces alongside Sophie; it was a very rewarding experience and a definite highlight of this year.’

Indeed, it was an equally enjoyable experience watching the show. The venue itself, a black box theatre holding an audience of fifty, is located above the Alma Tavern pub. Known for its intimate conditions, the theatre is a popular choice for performing arts society showcases.

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‘Lit Live’ started off with two short pieces written and directed by Jessica Millson, ‘Spagettoni’ and ‘Thumb sucking at the ASS’. ‘Spagettoni’ starring Philip Bayntun and Rory Stroud, was set at a therapy session and demonstrated the natural dynamic between the pair through Millson’s witty writing. The piece touched on some important topics, such as gender identity and trauma, and would perhaps have benefitted from introducing some of the darker comedy aspects earlier in the piece.

Millson herself starred in the second piece alongside James Tudor, ‘Thumb sucking in the ASS’, which encapsulated relatable and awkward student interactions. In the all-too familiar setting of the Arts and Social Sciences Library, Millson’s second duologue was even more effective in combining comedy and realism and was again a highly entertaining performance.

A standout piece of writing and directing in the showcase was Lilly Camyab’s play ‘Gaze’, a superb ensemble piece starring Ella Hakin, Edie Dacosta Jackson, Benjamin Oliveira, and Brandon Hamilton. ‘Gaze’ sensitively and creatively covered themes of toxic relationships, gendered gaze, alcoholism, and amnesia in its twenty-minute segment. I was thoroughly impressed by its original structure and interactive twist, which embodied the experimental nature of the festival and actively challenged the audience to reconsider our relationships with theatre, self-image, and artificiality.

As well as starring in Camyab’s piece, Oliveira directed an adaptation of Beckett’s ‘Come and Go’ with resounding performances from Arabella Fraser, Molly Grogan, and Alice Bebber. The trio explored the subtleties of Beckett’s humour, but to fully grasp the piece audiences would likely have needed a former awareness of Beckett’s style.

Closing the theatre festival was a light-hearted and again highly relatable Bristol-inspired piece, ‘Ambush at Rubicon’, written by producer Chris Leonard and co-directed with Aké Kibona. Set at a popular student café on Cotham Hill, Rubicon Too, the short comedy play was a parody of student friendship groups with a strong cast made up of Victoria Mery, Jamie Egan, Joe Hayward, and Taylor Gargett. It was the ideal piece to end the festival and was appreciated by the audience, with its lively pacing and notable student references including the popular night out haunt for DramSoc and Spotlights society members, La Rocca.

Credit must be given to the directors of the plays for maximising the minimal sets and simple staging, as well as forging authentic relationships between cast members which effectively translated to the audience. I hope to see ‘Lit Live’ continuing as a tradition for the Falstaff society as it represents a fantastic addition to the student drama scene and platform for creatives at Bristol University.

Featured Image: Chris Leonard

Have you seen any student theatre productions this term?