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Preview: Whiplash

Ricky Jones gives us some insight into Dramasoc's upcoming ambitious yet exciting weekend show, Whiplash.

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[caption id="attachment_121729" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Image: Dramasoc
Image: Dramasoc

James McAvoy in a recent interview for the Telegraph bemoaned the lack of "dangerous" theatre occurring in Britain today. However, here in York director Fiona Louise Kingwill and student writer A.R. Milton, are reaching for the stars in this weekend's drama barn show, with a fearless production that is hoped will start a "new era" for university drama, a "precedent for student writing" on campus and maybe give one Mr. McAvoy great hope for the future of British theatre.

Without giving too much away, the play focuses on our protagonist, Maggie (played by Amelia Hamilton) as she treads the line between reality and fantasy, an emotionally abusive boyfriend and her inner conflicts. Highly stylized and dealing with the taboo subject of mental illness, the play is attempting the daunting task of combining "dangerous" theatre with an accessible piece that has profound "universal appeal". Kingwill heaps praise on her small cast, who have been combining their studies with an intense rehearsal period - "some of our actors have been hurt, one of them had bruises, but it was in keeping with their character, which is severely manipulated throughout the play, so it worked".

The staging is simple yet effective and innovative: "We got people to send us their hopes and fears, and used them as quotes for our set along with lines from the play". One end of set spaces out the quotes, which represent 'reality' (Earth, Fake Friends, Ribena) and then as you move along the stage the quotes become darker and more concentrated (Dreaming is my religion, Control the voices), representing Maggie's 'fantasy' world, her loss of control and the inner torment she endures through her mental illness. Traverse seating will also allow for the audience to be fully immersed within Maggie's world.

When drawing up ideas for Whiplash, writer A.R. Milton was looking for something that brought the ideas of Alan Ayckbourn's 1985 classic, Woman in Mind, and modernized them, nuanced them not only to todays findings, but also a contemporary audience. Another influence was 1999 film Girl Interrupted, starring Angelina Jolie, but, whereas that film "focuses too much on interactions and the outside world", Milton wanted to "focus on the inside process of Maggie's mental illness". One scene in particular gets very "emotional and graphic", and, as with writing any dramatic piece, it could have easily descended into "overt lyricism". Milton, however, countered this and made a very deliberate attempt to root the subject in reality, producing a work that could be relatable to everyone, despite tackling a subject matter that some may see as outside of their own comprehension.

Music played an important part in the rehearsal process; "We made a joint playlist with the cast so some of their songs are in the play... we wanted to make the playlist as something that a 20 year old would listen to on their iPod", Kingwill explains. This youthful appeal embodies Whiplash's main attraction. It is a production written by a student for students, with the accessibility that 3-hours of Shakespeare might not necessarily have for a bored student looking for some evening entertainment.

The two final year students are hoping their "swansong" will imbue them with a courageous spirit as they "go out into the industry". Kingwill describes Milton's writing as "brave" but never "self indulgent" with a "new slant on the topic of mental illness that makes it highly accessible for new audiences". She talks about being part of a "new generation", away from the usual industry standard of ageing male writers and directors. Playing at the drama barn from Friday to Sunday, Whiplash is sure to be an immensely visceral, expressive and unique piece of original theatre with profits from the show going to mental health charity MIND.

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