Theatre in St Andrews

Toby Symonds explores the theatre scene in St Andrews.

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Equus Dress Rehearsal Credit: Mermaids

You don’t know it yet but theatre in St Andrews may as well change your life.

Acting doesn’t have to be your calling for the stage to enliven your time at St Andrews. The next four years will offer you the chance to produce, write or simply watch plays week in, week out – from the classics of the past to those of the future, perhaps.

Indeed, once matriculated into the University, all students are automatic members of the Mermaids Performing Arts Fund. This is a subcommittee of the Student Union, established specifically to help students craft the magic of theatre, no matter how much or little previous experience is had.

As Arthur Miller once wrote: “I think that by some unplanned magic we may end up creating something…a pure style springing from the heart of the play itself.”

On top of the Mermaids’ financial support for productions, St Andrews boasts too an impressive collection of creative student run societies on the theatre scene.

Fans of musical theatre can find their Broadway melody in the Just So Society, whilst budding comics should look no further than the St Andrews Revue, Comedy Society or improv-group Blind Mirth.

With students regularly taking productions to the Edinburgh Fringe (7 this year), St Andrews’ theatre experience has surprising international renown and can lead to great and grand futures. What makes the scene special here, however, is that, at the same time, involvement doesn’t have to lead to anything more than a chance to meet new people and just have fun.

“There are so many ways to get involved,” says Mermaids’ President for 2017/8, Matthew Lansdell.

“Whether it be through structured programs such as our shadowing scheme or just by asking someone if you can help them out. This means that people can get involved in the way that they are most familiar and comfortable with and then we give them the tools to branch out and really explore what the different roles in the theatre have to offer. Anyone can propose any show that they want which makes our little town have a really unique theatrical community.”

St Andrews has three main stages for productions. Most plays and shows, along with numerous events and rehearsals, take place in the Barron Theatre, just in front of the Library on North Street. A box office and plethora of posters greet you on entrance to the Barron, where tickets typically cost £5 a turn.

Recently taken over by the University is the larger and publicly used Byre Theatre on Abbey Walk, with access too via a passage on South Street. Here shows both professional and amateur run weekly. These include a – very British – pantomime at Christmas, UK comedians on tour and regular classic film screenings. Since the University’s takeover of the site, student plays have also been increasingly able to flourish, now twice a year, on the Byre’s spacious main stage. This Semester the Mermaids will be staging an adaption of Agatha Christie’s crime classic ‘And Then There Were None’ at the Byre, with the event coinciding with the subcommittee’s own centennial anniversary.

Also home to biennial productions is St Andrews’ own Student Union, with an all-female King Lear taking over the Venue last Spring and two new plays to look forward to in the coming year.

“Each show is the culmination of hours of preparation by teams that have been working on them for months,” says Lansdell.

“No matter what show someone chooses to go see I can guarantee it will have been put on by a group of people who are incredibly passionate about theatre and want to share their vision.”

Watch out for opportunities to get involved throughout this Semester, from a “Give-it-a-Go” day in Freshers’ Week, and regular workshops, all leading to the annual Freshers’ Drama Festival in week 9.

Remember, everyone starts somewhere.

It was only whilst at University that the award-winning star of stage and screen Hugh Laurie dabbled in acting. Having started out as a student of anthropology and archaeology, the one time highest paid actor in television only came to consider the career that would make his name after a bout of glandular fever (mono) ended a desired future in athletics.

To misquote Shakespeare, all the toun’s a stage and all the students merely players.

The theatre awaits!

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