It’s that time of year again everyone! The third year Writing, Directing and Performance students at the University of York are performing in their Early Modern production assessments. The year group is split into two and they work on two plays over the course of Spring term, and present them as a double bill. This time, the plays are George Dandin by Moliere (adapted by Ranjit Bolt) and The Suitors by Jean Racine (adapted by Richard Wilbur).
The evening begins with George Dandin, directed by Anna Stover. The story revolves around the title character (Andy Watts), a wealthy peasant married into an aristocratic world packed to the rafters with wealth, scandal and status. When he discovers his wife Angelique (Saffia Sage) is having an affair, he vows to prove it to her father and escape the cycle that punishes him.
There’s some delightfully strong characterisation here; Sage is particularly excellent as Dandin’s wife, colouring her performance with seamless changes in tone and disposition to others, and a well-considered, upright physicality. Georgie Wilmer is also excellent as her scheming servant Claudine, fully embodying the sense of deception and trickery that permeates throughout the play-world. Watts gives a highly watchable performance, energetically tugging on the audience’s heartstrings as we realise he’s destined to never leave the hamster-wheel of social politics.
So you’ve got some great performances here in George Dandin, and it’s a similar story with the production’s other aspects. Annlouise Butt and Laura Insley’s set design is refreshingly uncluttered, giving the performers plenty of space to show off their energetic and well-plotted execution of the playtext. The same can be said of Hollie Houlder’s lighting design, employing simple washes of colour to dictate the time of day and location of scenes nicely, while Gavin Pattison and Clemency Wall’s sound design neatly ties everything together.
After a short interval, the stage is rejigged for The Suitors, directed by Venetia Cook. Revolving around Nigaud (Josh Welch), who’s a judge obsessed with judging, the play follows his neighbours – who are conveniently obsessed with suing – and their attempts to clamber over each other in mad dashes for power.
The Suitors has a more farcical flavour than George Dandin, and energy levels are much higher. This becomes clear when we see Welch’s portrayal of the crazy judge, and the rest of the company’s performances are in a similar vein. This includes George Diaz as edgy upper-class father Chicanneau, whose performance contrasts nicely with Serena Bury’s as The Countess, who paints her performance with a more controlled cynicism that comes as a consequence of being power-mad.
What stands out the most in The Suitors, however, has to be Amilee Jobin and Ted Sager’s set design. Furnishing the Scenic Stage with old hues of antique wooden furniture and tea stained legal documents gives the piece a very different feel to its predecessor, and cogently establishes the play-world . Layered over this is Tim Kelly’s lighting design, which pulls the audience’s focus to key points throughout and generates different environments, while Izzy Marsh’s sound design adds to this vibrant production with pieces of music interspersed throughout.
At points, however, I feel that the atmospheres of scenes throughout both productions could have been fleshed out more, mainly through music. This would have helped bulk out the play-world and firmly emphasise the excellent performances.
Overall, this double bill of comedy is a brilliant demonstration of the true talent of York’s final year Writing, Directing and Performance students, and is certainly a must see. With top performances and knock-out production aspects across both shows, you’ve got a highly enjoyable evening waiting for you.
Comedy Double Bill is playing at the University of York, Department of Theatre, Film and Television until Saturday 5 March. For more information and tickets, visit comedydoublebill.com