This year's much-anticipated House Play Festival took place last week with a series of 12 plays performed over five nights. Selected by the directors, nine of these fantastic performances were comedies with the remaining three being dramas. There was a real range of plays selected, from farcical, fast-paced comedies with lots of amusing word play to the more sombre story of Sweeney Todd.
As a result, the award for best comedy saw lots of competition. This year saw the return of two seasoned judges, Miss Tebay and Miss Swallow, and the first year of Mr Callander, who was pleasantly surprised by the standard of direction and performances.
You can read up on the winners of the awards below along with the judges’ reviews of each play.
Best Preparation - Oakeley's House with Camp Confidence
Best Costume Design - Worcester House with Alice in Wonderland
Technical Achievement - School House with Peter Pan
Best Staging - Wiseman's House with Out of Order
Best Choreography - West Town with A Cut Above the Rest
Artistic Endeavour - Oakeley's House with Camp Confidence
Stage Presence - Malachy from South Town
Best Third Form Performance - Amalie from Hallward's House
Achievement Award - Wiseman's House with Out of Order
Rising Star - Tara from West Town
Best Male Supporting Actor - Christian from South Town
Best Female Supporting Actor - Olivia from Oakeley's House
Best Male Actor - Tom from School House
Best Female Actor - Jemima from Hallward's House
Best Director - Isis from Hallward's House
Best Comedy - South Town with A Masterpiece of Comic Timing
Best Drama - East Town with Dealer's Choice
Best Production - School House with Peter Pan
We are so proud of all of our students, and we were thoroughly impressed with each and every one of their performances throughout the House Play Festival. For those who were unable to attend the plays, here are the judges’ reviews of each.
Watson’s House – The Real Inspector Hound
On Sunday, there was a real sense of anticipation in the Redgrave Theatre. The House Play Festival 2019 kicked off with Watson’s giving us their rendition of The Real Inspector Hound. This was a good choice for a House as it is a one-act play so didn’t need a lot of cutting. Written by Tom Stoppard in 1968, the plot follows two theatre critics who are watching a farcical country house murder mystery in which they end up getting involved.
The judges felt that the staging was well thought through with focus of the audience being directed by the lighting of various parts of the stage and, in particular, the critics placed centrally. Their acting was good throughout, as even when not in the spotlight they kept in character. The cast clearly understood the play and there were some nice comic characterisations, particularly Mrs Drudge. It was refreshing that the female characters didn’t employ wigs but went for more natural acting. There was some good choreography of a death scene and the cast obviously enjoyed themselves.
Worcester House – Alice in Wonderland
Worcester House’s production of Alice in Wonderland was felt by the judges to be a very good choice of play for such a large cast. The director had understood the darker elements of the play and it was well cast. There was some very good projection of lines and we appreciated the use of unexpected songs, which added to the bizarre nature of the play. Each character had been well-thought through and the ensemble made much of the opportunity to characterise even the smallest roles - the Fish Footman, Frog Footman and Old Squirrel in particular were great fun.
We especially enjoyed the attention that had gone into appropriate and effective costume and make up as well as the imaginative use of props, such as the sheet used by the Cheshire Cat to move around the stage unseen. This production was fun to watch and looked great fun to be a part of, well done all!
Moberly’s House – All By Myself
Photo: Tony Leung
The final production of the House Play Festival’s first night was Moberly’s House’s All By Myself. This was a one-act comedy about a man stranded on a desert island for the last seven years, who now realises that there have been others stranded on the same island all along. The production was arresting from the outset, with a stark preset littered with plastic bottles and abandoned fridges, effective use of opening music and lighting to focus on the characters’ back-stories, as well as a nicely rehearsed musical number!
There were some strong performances from the actors who constantly reacted to and played off each other, and good movement around the stage and auditorium. The participation of the whole house for the final line made for a very powerful ending to the play and the audience greatly appreciated the performance.
West Town – A Cut Above the Rest
The opening play of Monday evening was an energetic and well-paced performance of Claire Demmer’s one act farce, A Cut Above the Rest. On the back of her starring role in the school musical, Gracie made her much anticipated directorial debut, supported by a strong cast from across the House. It was evident that the group was well rehearsed, delivering their lines securely and effectively pulling off what was a very physical comedy. The set and props had been carefully considered, with the raised coffin being a focal point on the stage. A highlight was certainly the well-choreographed resuscitation scene at the climactic point of the play.
School House – Peter Pan
Last year’s comedy prize winning directors, Tom and Charlie, were reunited this year to direct Peter Pan and once again proved that they can pull off humour with aplomb. The large cast was very well selected and rehearsed, the jokes were timed to great effect and the play was hugely appreciated by the audience. One stand-out aspect of the play was felt by the judges to be the use of technical elements - sound, lighting, props and even pyrotechnics were exploited to the fullest advantage to contribute to the atmosphere of a play going fantastically wrong. Well done to all involved on and off the stage!
Holland’s House – Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd was an ambitious choice for Holland’s house, in their second time in the competition, given the complexity of the piece and that the story had been cut down to make it a short play. The character of Sweeney Todd had its origins in serialised Victorian popular fiction, was turned into a play and subsequently much later to a musical. It was good to see the House trying something new and taking on a drama in contrast to last year’s offering of a pantomime. The judges were impressed by the bravery of this young cast in tackling this dark play about a pie maker and barber combining forces to sell meat pies made out of human flesh from customers who were murdered by Sweeney Todd.
The directors had thought carefully about the staging of the play, which was split in half for the two premises and lighting was used to good effect. There were some good costumes and props which evoked the era and effective touches such as the bloodied towel on the chair. The killing scenes, a difficult thing to pull off on stage, were short and punctuated by sound effects and screams. Well done all.
Hallward’s House – Crazy Horses
Hallward House’s play, Crazy Horses, opened with the dramatic O Fortuna - a powerful piece of music foreshadowing the strong performance that was to follow. The Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse working with Satan to prevent God’s plan for a job swap. This play was successfully cast, with the actors evidently well-rehearsed and able to stay in character throughout the performance. The characterisation was strengthened through good costumes and makeup, and the divided set was highly effective in adding to the theatrics of the performance. A very commendable production, well done.
Wiseman’s House – Out of Order
Wiseman’s House were on stage in the final play, in the run of three, on Tuesday evening. As the audience entered they were faced with a well-constructed set, depicting a plush hotel suite. This set the scene nicely for the farce that followed; Out of Order, written by Ray Cooney. The judges felt that this was a very good choice of play which employed all the usual slapstick of misunderstandings, panic and numerous entrances and exits, through doors, and in particular through a defective sash window, which had a tendency to drop like a guillotine. This was manipulated superbly by the backstage team and fast became an extra character in the story.
Props and music were used well and there were some good characterisations of hotel staff and guests, as things became more and more chaotic. The well planned choreography of the dead body being moved around the stage and in and out of cupboards added to the fun, with the puppetry on the sofa being a highlight. Lighting added to the mood changes and the judges particularly enjoyed the scene where the dead body came to life. The cast worked well as a team and the interplay between characters was very effective. This production was thoroughly enjoyed by audience and cast alike.
North Town – Blackadder
Photo: Tony Leung
North Town transported the audience into the World War One trenches with an adaptation of the British sitcom classic, Blackadder Goes Forth. Effective sound effects and lighting set the scene from the outset, with the period costumes adding authenticity to the performance. It was certainly a bold decision to take on a play with such notable characters, but the cast should be commended for the success of their performance. A particular highlight was a raw chicken falling to the stage amongst a shower of feathers after Blackadder shoots the pigeon. Well done on a great performance.
Oakeley’s House – Camp Confidence
Photo: Tony Leung
This year, Oakley’s House chose to perform Diana Raffle’s comedy, Camp Confidence. This was felt to be a well-chosen play for the house as the strong female characters provided the good actors with the opportunity to showcase their talents. We especially appreciated members of the house approaching members of the audience with motivational quotes before the play as this helped to set the tone for the performance and the characters of the counsellors on stage very well. The slick fight scene was another highlight, which pointed to excellent interaction amongst the cast, and the attention to detail with the set and props were also very effective. A very enjoyable performance, well done.
East Town – Dealer’s Choice
Photo: Tony Leung
So we came to the final evening of the festival, and East Town gave us the drama Dealer’s Choice which was written by Patrick Marber and first performed in 1995. This was a good choice of play, focusing as it does on a couple of rooms in a restaurant and a poker game. The judges felt that the set was well thought out; using the single door between the scenes making it easy for transitions.
There was some good attention to detail with the props, and the characterisations were credible and maintained throughout the play. During the scenes, even when focus was taken away from individuals, they continued to act. The pace most notably picked up during the card game, with some quick fire repartee. It was good to have another drama in the festival and it was a very enjoyable evening with some fine acting.
South Town – A Masterpiece of Comic Timing
Photo: Tony Leung
Expectations were high for last years’ House Play winners, South Town - and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Set in a suite at the luxury Royal Palm Hotel, A Masterpiece of Comic Timing was a great script selection for this very capable cast. Cameron, Christian, Malachy and Rohan captivated the audience in a mature performance that wouldn’t have been amiss at the Edinburgh Fringe. The lighting and sound was highly effective, assisting in the seamless transitions between scenes, and it was evident that careful consideration had been given to the use of set and props. A fantastic reception from the audience with a standing ovation to wrap up the final play of the festival.