Oriel Ball 2009 (I saw a man, he danced with his wife)

Feldspars Will Green
Feldspar's Will Green

The 2009 Oriel Commemoration Ball was last night, and it was fabulous – so fabulous I’m having to hold one eye shut as I squint to check whether ‘Commemoration’ is spelt correctly. It looks wrong. But then everything looks wrong right now, including sunlight and my poor haggard face. Well, less haggard than scarlet and bleary, since my default response to such nights is puffy horror rather than interesting pallour.

It was a wonderful and impeccably-organised evening. One of our party was with-wheelchair, and inside the venue access was mostly quite good (despite a raised lawn in first quad). Outside, things were trickier; a lack of ramps made the dropped kerb outside Oriel Lodge rather hard to navigate, and I do think the Committee might have thought of that (we were the only wheelchair users, though). Oriel must be one of the least access-friendly colleges and I’m sorry to say I don’t think a wheelchair user could be there full-time as things currently stand. But the night was a great success – and unlike the St John’s Ball last year, security/committee/general personnel actually addressed Chloe and not whoever was pushing her.

The ball theme was tenuously La Belle Epoque, which translated as ‘vaguely mostly Paris’ in reality. College looked wonderful – there’s not much you can do about the ugliness of marquees, and although decorations were less in evidence than the last ball, three years ago, the three quads looked fabulous. Lighting in particular (a lot of pink and green) was very impressive. There was also a bloody terrifying mime (ancient, haggard, one of those horrible old men who can probably put his foot behind his head and doesn’t wear socks), an authentically skeevy-looking accordionist, a caricaturist, a hypnotist, a snooty tarot card reader, and, er, a midget. As Toulouse-Lautrec.

This was a bit odd, to say the least – not because of any personal objection (midget actors, like all performers, need all the gigs they can get), but because I can imagine the copy filed by any journalists in tow:  “as the future leaders of great Britain slumped onto beanbags (many in a state of undress), quaffing cocktails with names like ‘Dead Man’s Mule’ and ‘Le Pigalle’ and debating whether to take Pro Plus, a midget, hired for the occasion, was brought forth to entertain the guests” Food & drink didn’t seem to run out – the chocolate fondue, impressively, was still going at dawn. A bit after midnight, I spoke to my friend (and sometime fellow MCR committee member) David, who was organising drinks (apparently more stressful than a thesis…), who was a little bit flustered over the potential dearth of champagne: guests having knocked back the reception, a stash of five emergency cases was apparently in hiding, and college had agreed to sell the Committee more drink if the worst happened. Orpheas (also MCR, also Ball Treasurer) was standing around writing cheques from the largest and most ludicrous chequebook you’ve ever seen.

My friend Will Green’s band, Feldspar (winners of the 2008 Indy Award) played at 11 in Third Quad. I think a later slot would have served them better but the set was amazing. Buy their album, or better still see them live. Will dedicated a song to me (Waterfall Lane), possibly in memory of the week we spent in Cornwall, crying, boozing and alternating Feldspar’s bitter back catalogue with Tom Waits’s Martha and Dire Straits. It’s a great song. Will’s a great singer. And on an entirely narcissistic note, it was in third quad that three strangers came up to me and complimented me on Love’s Labour’s Lost and my performance therein. Sidenote: I am really missing the LLL cast. They are awesome. Plays are just better than anything else in the world, and it was really good to see Eleanor (Nathaniel), Phil (Costard) and Rebecca (Jacquenetta) last night. Rebecca was singing two sets in First Quad – jazz standards through the small hours.

Everybody flagged a bit around four, lying in tumbled piles on the aforementioned beanbags, while a cool and misty morning hazed up out of the stones to replace the spectacularly balmy night. The fog over Oriel Square was quite amazing – grey and damp and almost wintry. Seeing the frozen skyline behind the Survivors’ Photo, future generations will probably wonder why the hell Oriel Ball 2009 was held in Winter. Four of us had the bright idea of getting into the MCR and failing to make the coffee machine work, before clambering out onto the balcony and sniffing the exquisite morning air. Fresh and cool and much more savoury than any of us. By this point the geraniums were beginning to hurt my eyes, and eventually (at 6.18, a bloody unwholesome hour) I staggered home carrying heels and clutch bag, and with enormous jumper over ball dress. Several others (including many boys stripped of all but fragments of evening dress, and with wet hair – surely not swimming?) were doing the same thing, cringing our way over Magdalen Bridge and acknowledging that yes, we are scum with our mussed hair and dishevelled frocks, and the Cowley Road denizens looking at us with amusement (or hatred) from bus and work and other wholesome pursuits are entirely right to do so.

It was a wonderful evening. I hate that I have to leave this city soon. Any place has a trick of looking beautiful when you have to leave it, but this morning Oxford looked particularly pale and smooth, grey and clear like a stone. So much better than East Oxford ever looks at other times, even though I love the Cowley Road with its noise and madness and constant promise of life-life-life.

Although this purple prose is inspired entirely by a lachrymose, late-afternoon hangover, I wish there were more nights like this still to come, rather than four years left behind. College looked like a big untidy beach this morning, the stones gold and the debris staggering. I am lucky to have been here, and when even I can get caught up in the drowsy chanting of Oriel, Oriel after ten hours’ partying it’s an indication of just how much I’ll hate to say goodbye.

Also, the Provost was there, disco-dancing with his wife. In restrained white tie. Rarely have I seen anything so seemly or so incredibly endearing.

Oriel Ball tonight: I have taken to my bed.

Have no idea how brides do it. Thought I had everything sorted for ball tonight; realised this morning that this was NOT THE CASE. Yesterday mother asked me if I was taking a bag. I said no, will only need keys, that’s what boys’ pockets are for. Mother looked deeply dubious re: this unaccustomed minimalism, as well she might. Realised last night in fact would need camera, phone, bus/taxi money and thus clutch bag. Own nothing suitable; rush to town, buy bag for semi-extortionate sum while in wild haze of despair. Bag is beautiful, certainly, but economic implications do not hit me until am actually leaving shop,when fog of saleswoman-induced stupefaction lifts and instantly remember list of all the cheaper places I should have gone to first. Accessorize fortunately comes up trumps by offering only plastic horrors; Primark again in state of hideousness. Nearly buy black patent shoes in bizarre displacement activity to lift depression re: money just spent, but realise madness.

While still in Primark, get distracted by possibility of things could wear for Pride (v good rainbow selection), then by makeup section (could poss buy nail varnish & eyeliner here in manner of thrift). Then recollect that since I am apparently incredibly allergic to Veet — used it three days ago, legs like sunburn, thank god dress is long — will undoubtedly react like ploughed field to Primark makeup.

Proceed to Boots, acquire incredibly expensive razor blades (toxic Veet originally intended as thriftful alternative to same) and incredibly cheap nail varnish, cheer self up by recollecting that since have borrowed dress and already owned shoes, bag necessary and justifiable purchase. This would be truer if had not yesterday spent £20 on silk wrap. Decide that will use bag for every formal occasion for rest of life, including marriage should I have one (do brides have bags? They should do). Then realise that yet again Have No Food In and will presumably need to eat pre-ball, rectify this, ponder horrific complexity of cosmetic procedures. Field calls re: taxis, wheelchair access, what-constitutes-white-tie (cheering me slightly that boys have some share in the horror) and hungover friend who last night defenestrated his wristband and dreads the consequences.

Is strange. I do not have a particularly large or unusual body – am not afflicted by warts, or fur, extra head or scaly limb AND YET every bit of it seems to require intricate and costly cosmetic procedures. I have not had my eyebrows rethreaded, my nails done or anything waxed. AND YET I am constantly thinking ohgod elbows, ohgod back(ne) ohgod do I need VOLUMIZING SPRAY (I do not). Possibly this makes me a slave to the patriarchy, or slatternly, or a bit OCD. If I do ever get married, there are only two alternatives: have the WHOLE THING (i.e. self, body, maquillage) entirely catered by professionals from moment of waking, or elope and wear jeans. Or in my case, jeans and a cream silk clutch bag.

Nuns & Nipple-Sucking: PHOTOS of the Oriel 24 Hour Play

John-Mark Philo strikeas himself/strike
John-Mark Philo as himself

The fifth annual Oriel 24 Hour Play, the Annals of Tathituth, smeared Oriel 2nd quad in oozing redness on 2 June 2009. Stumbling out of my dissertation-induced stupor, I went along to see my college son (yes, college father to racist berk Nick Gallagher of OUCA – so very proud, dear readers) shirtless, bleeding, and breastfeeding a ram’s skull (as well as, eventually, most of the cast). We students know how to live. As well as John-Mark Philo, the aforementioned lactating dramawhore, the play (which was written by James Methven, John Bohannon and Joe Brennan, all of whom sound vaguely like anagrams of each other) featured Sophia Satchell-Baeza and Jay Bernard, who blog at Betty Swallow and Brrnrrd respectively. Any review of the Annals of Tathituth would be less an attempt at dramatic criticism than a chronicle of increasing horrific and orally-fixated events, although Sophia’s had a go at spreading the love in Nuns and Nipple-Sucking(which would have been a better title for the play). The Cherwell (print) photos are mine, and here are the best of the rest:

IMG_0795

Ollie Mann, Katie Carpenter and Jay Bernard.
Ollie Mann, Katie Carpenter and Jay Bernard.
Carpenter and Mann defy the captioner's art.
Carpenter and Mann defy the captioner's art.

Love’s Labour’s Lost: rehearsals & workshop with Propeller!

l to r: Liam (Dull), James (Navarre) Phil (Costard) and Krishna (directing).
l to r: Liam (Dull), James (Navarre) Phil (Costard) and Krishna (directing).

We are rehearsing. It’s good. Our cast is somewhat reshuffled and now complete – we’ve welcomed Martha May as the Princess, and Dan McLean as Longaville. I’m sorrier than I can say to see Rob and Ellen go (nothing sinister – work and family commitments) but the new people are great and it’s good to be a secure company. Merton & Oriel are especially well-represented – the latter provides myself, Rebecca Tay as Jacquenetta and Dan McLean. The last two are both JCR Theologians, for added crossover.

The weather, too, is glorious; the pastier amongst us (…that’d be Ed and I) are swooning slightly in the heat, but I wouldn’t miss the chance to rehearse in the space. When I directed the Oriel Garden Show, two years ago, we were lucky enough to rehearse in the quad for a good three weeks or so; now, college red-tape seems to make everything a lot trickier. Thank God Merton is so huge – we’re a long way from any rooms, and the one eye-witness report (my friend Jodie saying ‘this isn’t meant to sound creepy, but I think I watched your rehearsal’) suggested our spectator actually enjoys the sound of a bit of Shakepseare in the afternoons.

I’m playing Moth. No, not the fairy. The page. The small, compulsively clever, unstoppable show-off and occasionally vicious little brat to whose canonical characteristics Krishna and I seem to have added mild hyperactivity. I never stand still. Except on the bench (our sole bit of set!). Moth is the page and comic foil to Don Armado, the Spanish lover-and-or-fighter who brings chaos to the court of Navarre. And he never shuts up. At the moment I think Moth’s about 13-14; a good choice for a page, and, obviously, any boy I’m playing can’t be too mature or adolescent. He’s crueller than I originally thought; the cross-casting of Holofernes and Nathaniel (Ellen Davnall and Eleanor Lischka) means that when he mocks them, it’s a young teenage boy having a nasty go at two old women; different resonances to the usual schoolboy/pantaloon clash. He also has more of an arc than I’d expected – we see him meet & develop a friendship with Costard (Phil Aherne). These notes could become tediously detailed, but one thing that’s really coming out is that not only (as K points out) is he almost always the teacher in what should be a reversed pupil/teacher relationship), but he has more natural authority; in a scene where Armado has to imprison Costard, it’s Moth who actually takes him off to prison, with far less fuss. I imagine him a bit like one of the Magdalen/New College schoolboys you see walking through town all the time.

I must admit that I’m already having the occasional shiver of stage fright. It’s such a long time since I acted, especially acted-without-also-directing, and the usual formula that having directed plays (the biggest possible stress) cured my stagefright (acting = relatively unterrifying) has gone. Gone. I’m worried I’m too old, curvy, female, high-pitched, quiet and clumsy for this part. But then, all the scampering and running I’m doing has gone pretty well so far, although there’s one weird little bit of dancing that (while v effective) is already a possible source of nerves. I have no idea where to practice it – my room doesn’t give me enough of a run-up, and jigging about in the corridors could be interpreted as psychological warfare enacted on my neighbours. Equally, doing it outside (presumably after dark) might easily give rises to suspicions of a satanic rite. Oh the vicississitudes of my life.

Lots of movement is definitely the way to go – not only because Moth has some incredibly wordy speeches to deliver (fortunately my forays into Latin are v brief), but because of the one helpful fact I’ve gleaned from neurotic academic scrabbling through Love’s Labour’s Lost‘s stage history. Well, no, there are two. The first is that the play was written as am-dram, for lawyers, to be performed in the Inner Temple. Hence, you might say, all the Latin and loquacity, and leave it at that. IN FACT, the legal profession clearly have the filthiest minds of those alive today – the play, so sweetly beautiful at the RSC, is actually pure filth. We discovered this at the readthrough. You can get a lot of mileage from the word ‘fructify’. Collapse of cast.

Anyway, my one useful fact is that, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the play has often been staged in a double-bill with The Tempest and, in such cases, Moth usually doubles Ariel.

So as far as movement goes, we’re probably on the right track, then.

Obviously, the rehearsal period is going to get extremely intense between now and our 19 June opening, but that’ll be no change for our cast – 15 of us were in plays in 5th week, a couple more have productions in 6th, and two of us (Ed and myself, fortunately) have Masters dissertations to hand in, four days before we open! Oh, and Phil and James just did finals or something. Whatevs. And everybody else seems to do a lot of rowing (cue lycra, muscles, and plenty of people to finally explain what ‘rowed on’ means – I know, it’s terrible).

Before show week, though, we have workshops oh yes. Propeller is coming to work with us (I AM SO PATHETICALLY EXCITED ABOUT THIS) during their week in Oxford, we’ll be learning ballroom dancing and also choral singing (this last in preparation for the final scene). I think we’re quite a musical cast – although obviously Rebecca has been doing musical theatre all through Oxford – so that should be fun. Workshops seem to be the latest thespy vogue, along with 1) experimental theatre in the O’Reilly (which seems to have edged out Hertford Bop Cellar as Top Place To Wear Leggings In) and 2) thespian blogs. Er. Whoops. I am all in favour; training is such an important part of rehearsals, particularly for student actors who want to turn professional, but for whom having a first degree makes subsequent training much more expensive (and thus necessarily shorter). Obviously nothing we do here can replace drama school training (even Sian [Robins-Grace] who went from Oxford to the RSC in a matter of months had done BADA etc. in the holidays) for actors, but every little helps.

But yes. We are rehearsing. It’s good.

Love’s Labour’s Lost | by William Shakespeare | 19-22 June 2009, performance nightly | Merton Fellows’ Garden | tickets £7, £5 concs, book @ lovedandlostinoxford@gmail.com | dir. Krishna Omkar and Ellen Davnall | A Merton Floats Production | THE COMPANY: Phil Aherne, Sophie Duncan, Eleanor Lischka, Samantha Losey, James Lowe, Martha May, Dan McLean, Charlotte Mulliner, Krishna Omkar, Emily Roessler, Sam Roots, Michaël Roy, Geraldo Silva Neto, Rebecca Tay, Liam Wells, Ed White |

P.S. Another lesson I am learning from rehearsals – do not look scared and horrified when a co-actor (Michaël, in fact) tells you he reads your blog every day. This is good. This is why you’re writing. You want this to happen (LLL cast, hi!).