Student Blog: Around the UK in 80 Days

80 Days 2I’ve got to be honest: from the off, Oxford glittered in my mind not just for the smorgasbord of academic delights wafted under my nose (sorry Dr Llewelyn), but also for its vibrant drama scene. Since arriving here, I’ve acted in everything from new writing at the cosy Burton Taylor Studio, to running around as a snotty 9 year old boy in a stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies, to the hard-hitting Playhouse production of Pentecost, a drama about art history, refugees, European identity I’m going to be in during autumn 2015. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that one of the two Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) National Tours this year was a production of the classic madcap adventure, Around the World in 80 Days.

The amount of fun I had in my audition (where I bizarrely had to play both characters of my chosen dialogue at once) and callback gave me a very good feeling about this production. A cast of eight were to play every character – and, as it transpired, piece of furniture/ mode of transportation – from around the world, as Phileas Fogg, the eccentric Victorian gentleman, battled time, typhoons and an undercover detective to race around the world in 80 days, and win his bet against the stuffy old men of the Reform Club.

Rehearsals began in 8th week of the summer term, and continued full-time for three glorious weeks after term ended. Everyone on the team was so enthusiastic, contributing ideas and energy all day err’day, with the end result being something our director later confessed she had never dreamed envision. We all took on parts as and when the characters grabbed us, and the multi-rolling really blossomed within this framework. From the relatively dry script leapt flirty, Carry On-esque British consuls, badass femme-fatale jewel thieves, terrifying (-ly amusing for the cast) pirates and bored, gum-chewing American receptionists. Music was quickly integrated into the fabric of the play, with myself and another cast member playing guitar and ukulele (swapped for Peppa Pig recorder for a hilariously awkward rendition of the Titanic theme tune) respectively, and collaboratively developed vocal accompaniments by the whole cast.

After we’d got the play up on its feet, it was time for three lunch-time performances in St John’s College gardens – the most beautiful setting, under an enormous willow tree, with lots of space for the audience to spread out picnic blankets and munch strawberries. Then it was straight up to Buxton, for the mini Fringe Festival held there every year. Sufficiently charming the predominantly OAP population of Buxton into seeing our show, we performed for three nights. Over these first performances, we got a real feel for the sense of play we’d created, and how much fun the audience was having with us. And this was gratifyingly evident in the reviews, and from our award of Best Production of the entire Fringe (and our brilliant Jean Passpartout winning the award for Best Female Actor).

80 Days 1-1We were then given a two-week break, but I’m fairly sure that by the time we arrived in Edinburgh on the 3rd August, none of us could wait to start our run on the 6th. A big aspect of taking a show up to Edinburgh is marketing the whole thing yourselves – and that means being a presence flyering on the Royal Mile every day, to have a chance of standing out among the 5,000 or so shows during the month. Neglect to do that, and you will be performing to a very barren auditorium.  We soon came to realise that the stunning puppet elephant made for us by a fellow student was a god send: being able to interact with young kids (‘Have you ever met an elephant? You know what, I’ve trained her to give really awesome high-fives’) was so rewarding and upped our ticket sales no end. We sold out a few times, and performed to packed-out audiences who were, more often than not, so on-board with our raucously energetic show that they were willing to forgive any little blunders we made.

I can’t think of a way I’d rather spend my summer: doing what I love, with people of whom I’ve grown incredibly fond, surrounded by other young creatives in Edinburgh all putting out work they’ve built from the ground. And in Edinburgh it’s all simply for the sake of it; no one really makes any money, which distills the process to the pure joy of making theatre. To anyone reading this who becomes and Oxford student and enjoys drama, think about auditioning for an OUDS National Tour: this was one of the most special experiences in which I’ve had the fortune of taking part.

By Maddy Walker (Second Year Classics Student)

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