Nov 8, 2019

Trinity’s Ongoing Debut Festival Shows the Best of Student Drama

This year's Debut Festival is well underway, but if its first production passed you by, there's plenty of time to catch up.

Emer Tyrrell Theatre Editor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

With a successful production of Charles L Mee’s Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, directed by fourth-year drama student CN Smith, already put to bed, it’s safe to say that this year’s Debut Festival is well underway. But if the production passed you by, there’s still plenty of time to catch a glimpse of the magic happening in the Samuel Beckett Theatre.

Debut Festival is a five-week showcase of established plays directed by five final-year drama students. After the performances take place, they are assessed by the drama department as part of the directors’ final-year grades. However, final-year drama student Julia Appleby explains that this isn’t an exclusively Arts Block-only affair, as the creative teams behind many productions include students from all strands of learning and, similarly, casts expand to include Trinity alumni, students and thespians from further afield.

In week nine, Aaron Finnegan, conscious of the sheer volume of American and British literature and playscripts that have lined the path of his creative education, has chosen “to drag it back to [his] roots” with his debut production of Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol. Finnegan summarises McPherson’s work, explaining that it’s “all about people being awful to each other, but there’s always a side of redemption to it”. Dublin Carol, he says, “is no different”.


Set over a six-hour period on Christmas Eve – structurally reminiscent of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol – the play enters the stage world of protagonist John, who hasn’t seen his family in 20-odd years. Unexpectedly, his daughter shows up to tell him that his wife is about to die. The play “deals with this decision of whether or not to make up for everything he has done over the past 20 years”, says Finnegan. Though an inevitably “heavy” piece, Finnegan maintains that McPhearson’s play carries decipherable glimpses of hope: “There’s a bright side to it.”

Appleby will present her directorial realisation of Tennessee Williams’s The Strangest Kind of Romance in week 10 of Michaelmas term. Having chosen a playwright from the American canon, Appleby was determined to stray from Williams’s more famous, arguably overdone works and “find a play that no one had heard of”. When she stumbled upon the one-act The Strangest Kind of Romance, it was a seamless fit.

The plot follows a man who views a landlady’s room for rent. Upon finding a cat in the apartment, he falls in love with the feline and subsequently decides to take the room. The play examines this absurd bestial relationship and the reactions of those looking on, against the backdrop of “the industrial social constructs” of 1940s America, she explains. Appleby says that the play grapples with notions of the ideal American man, this man’s disparate reality and negotiating the gulf between the two.

Succeeding Appleby, in week 11 Dominic O’Brien will present his artistic take on Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. This play, by award-winning writer Alice Birch, follows “a series of provocations [that] overlap, intersect, and explode to create a wildly theatrical and irreverent play about how we talk to, and about, each other”, says O’Brien.

“How do you love, learn, fuck, work, mate, marry, watch, shop, listen, win, dress, think, feel, fight, … age, bleed, bake, yell?” he asks rhetorically, embodying the spirit of the play. This ragingly philosophical piece is “about the words we use and the actions we don’t take”. The production, under O’Brien’s direction, is sure to ruffle some feathers.

To conclude this year’s Debut Festival Winter Season, Natasha Duffy will put her directorial stamp onto Jean Paul Sartre’s widely acclaimed No Exit. “It’s a play written in the 1940s about three people that are stuck in hell, but hell is a hotel room”, says Duffy. “They’re perfectly placed in this room to torture each other.” Although written almost 80 years ago, Duffy believes the script carries a huge modern relevance.

Duffy goes on to relate this to the modern reliance on social media and its consequent effects. In addition, as the conflict of the play accelerates, Duffy distinguishes “potential for transcendence”. She explains: “Even though it is hell, it’s through the pain that [the characters] are experiencing that makes this [transcendence] possible.” She says that “we are going through this very extreme part of history at the moment”, and asks: “Is this the last whip of the tail? And can it get better?”

Overall, this year’s Debut Festival Winter Season treats campus to a thought-provoking array of artistic adaptations, breathing contemporary life into sempiternal tales. Each production will run at 7pm from Wednesday to Friday of their allocated week of term. Tickets at €12 or €6 for students and concessions.

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