At The Cistern

Thu 16th – Sat 18th October 2014


Divyameenakshi Viswanathan

at 23:33 on 16th Oct 2014



When you're backed by nothing but a shabby set (intentionally, I suppose), albeit having an actual toilet in it, and absolutely no set changes, you know that there is going to be nothing to distract from the performances on stage. This could either make or break an actor. That being said, I can genuinely state that the last two hours that I spent watching At the Cistern, was not something I regret.

Written by Durham graduate, Joe Skelton, the play is a humorous delve into the lives of a young couple, Rob and Charly, who deal with the shock of moving to the rural countryside from their former urban lifestyles. This is further accentuated when they meet strange new neighbours, resulting in a series of slightly disturbing but entertaining events.

In my personal opinion, the stand out among the cast of four was Corinna Harrison, who played Suzanne, a batty and at times, quite terrifying neighbour. I was pleasantly surprised at the control shown in the acting. It had the potential of being overdone and drawn out but Corinna never let it get out of control. When you find yourself feeling unsettled by an actor, you know they're doing a good job.

The ensemble as a whole worked very well together. The chemistry between Rory Barnes ( Rob) and Lily Morgan( Charly) was evident and worked well in tying things together. There was something incredibly natural about it all. They bounced well off each other and the body language was excellent. Hamish Clayton who played Graham, Suzanne's husband, had good comic timing. His character was supposed to be incredibly awkward and Hamish's body language was true to script, even down to the believable nervous hand movements and body twitching.

I loved the decision to keep the set drab, lending an air of misery to the whole thing, which elevated the play. Jeremy Smart who took on the role of director in this production, made some incredibly smart choices when it came to handling this project. He allowed the script to shine on its own, as it should be, because it is a very well-written script. The dialogue was snappy, full of humour, was never droll or dragged out, and was an excellent vehicle for the actors to showcase their craft on. The producer, Danielle Oliver, deserves a shout out just for the brilliant inclusion of an actual toilet on set.

Watching the play was almost a cinematic experience, due to the ensemble's chemistry with each other, the simplicity in the background, and the sense of intimacy you derive from the production. In a nutshell, At The Cistern, was funny, well written and acted and well worth the half-hour walk to Hild Bede in the cold.


Nathaniel Zacharias

at 00:11 on 17th Oct 2014



Based on Joe Skelton’s original script, At the Cistern is a marvellous play by Hild Bede Theatre. For the small-scale production that it is, it packed a professional punch, keeping true to effective theatre portrayal. The storyline explores the perspectives of each of the four characters towards living in the countryside. The themes of job interviews, household DIY, hobbies and insecurities are explored effectively, and make deeper allusions to the human yearning for the sacred rituals and holy spaces of civilized society. It culminates with the juxtaposition between the protagonist’s epiphany that all we long for is “just someone to share it all with” and the antagonist’s wisdom to “(only) give it ten years”. Like all good plays, it leaves the conclusion to the intellect of the audience.

It is a joy to discover each character’s motivations and ambitions in life within the context of countryside living. This discovery of perspective takes place layer by layer throughout the play; whilst Suzanne’s extreme boredom nudges towards insanity, in Rob we encounter a dreamy, peaceful sense of zen. And to that end, the four-person cast each played their roles with a wonderful naturalism.

The execution of each role was well done. Rory Barnes’s punctuated and deliberate staccato delivery effectively portrayed the dreamy, idyllic views of Rob. Lily Morgan’s explosive cursing and smooth wit was employed well to reflect her marketing position in a shampoo company. Hamish Clayton’s nose-in-the-air, posh vocal projections lent themselves well to the effect of his country native Graham. And Corinna Harrison’s intense eyes and terse speech gave flesh to Suzanne’s sly character. To top it off, all the actors made good use of the stage space and blocking was well executed. The chemistry between Rob and Charly as husband and wife seemed sincere enough, the cat-fight friction between Charly and Suzanne was perfect, and the jarringly awkward relationship between Graham and Suzanne was clearly implied.

The production team made bold decisions to employ an unchanging set, the use of live kitchen props, actual hot beverages and actual bottles of wine (to the delight of the actors, I’m sure). Lighting effects were kept minimal but highly effective, truly supplementing the stageplay. These decisions meant that more focus was given to the acting, which was a wise call to make indeed. Any lapses in script went by unnoticed and were glossed over well during the performance.

All in all, At the Cistern is a good evening of college theatre. It starts off with good humour, moves on to direct the audience towards deeper meaning and ends with an ambivalence that makes a good prelude for the rest of the evening.


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