Jordana Belaiche, BA Politics
The London Student Drama Festival, a yearly celebration featuring devised performances of entirely student written pieces from London Universities, approaches its fourth year on 5th March 2016. The festival, which began as a conception devised by UCLU, is now prestigiously hosted by the Pleasance Theatre – one of the major venues at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It now has even greater incentives to win, including the chance to perform for ‘award-winning playwright’ Bola Agbaje and Felicity Dean, the latter of which will also be judging this year’s competition, as well as prizes for ‘best playwright’ and ‘best individual performance’ consisting of a meeting with Simon Stephens and headshots from Alisha Love Headshots respectively.
There can be no doubt that this year the competition seems greatly improved – last year’s was confusingly renamed the ‘Fuel Arts Festival’ and the greatest prize seemed to be lording it over other UoL colleges, excepting of course Student Central’s group of performers, the UL Theatre Project, which auditions students every year collated from varying London institutions to take part in a weekly devised workshop, culminating in a performance at the festival, and is directed this year by recent Royal Central School of Speech and Drama graduate, Rachel Elizabeth Humphreys.
No doubt the festival was formed off the back of other such festivals regularly occurring at universities with an even higher turnover of plays per term, such as Oxford, and as an imitation model one couldn’t deny that the LSDF has perhaps a few more years until it gains quite as much precedence in the schedules of London students. Now, as expectation mounts among both casts, crews and their respective universities, one could assume this festival ranks as somewhat more of a competition, particularly for colleges such as UCL or King’s whose Drama Societies consistently function like well cogged machines.
In fact last year’s winning performance did indeed come from Kings, with a devised piece drawn from (not entirely unexpectedly) musings on Theism. This year one can expect performances from UCL which follows the exploration of memory and false memory in a piece entitled ‘No One Lied’ and even a submission from SOAS performing on 5th March, the first since 2014, entitled ‘Ringleaders’, which follows a surrealist court case concerning the outbreak of a circus fire. Expect other performances from King’s, Imperial, Queen Mary’s and Royal Holloway.
Having taken part myself in this odd little festival last year, I am well acquainted with the cumbersome space in Student Central, more accustomed to accommodating pounding and thumping groups of revellers than student actors and elaborate sets, upon which universities devise a short 30 minute performance entirely devised or written by themselves.
Devising itself is a difficult task, let alone performing in a space that is anything but accommodative, yet the movement of the festival from its initial home in UCL’s Bloomsbury Theatre, which is currently under renovation, and then from the small Fringe venue Theatro Technis in Mornington Crescent, to an arguably more ‘Central’ venue that, while not suited to dramatic performance, conveys the supposed spirit of the festival – engaging individual University of London colleges and their drama societies, which rarely have cause to interact. The emerging champion as winner receives the pleasure of performing at the Pleasance theatre in London, and, if all goes well, an Edinburgh Fringe transfer.
Opportunities afforded by the festival are indeed great; particularly given the extent of cuts to Arts funding, there are certainly fewer possibilities for young writers and performers to showcase their work in front of such an obliging audience. It’s a chance to catch a glimpse of London’s students striving to deliver a festival through which the very best performative and divisive talent can be displayed.
The first round of the London Student Drama Festival runs from 5th- 6th March 2016 in Student Central.