Raising the Bar: Durham’s Theatre Festivals & Societies

Durham has a rich and diverse heritage with Theatre and the Performing Arts stretching back for centuries.

But, in a world of television streaming and instant gratification, do ordinary people still have the enthusiasm to watch theatre, let alone rehearse and perform it?

Although the rest of the country may well be under the spell of YouTube videos and On Demand television, the people of Durham are still very much lovers of the stage. This passion for the theatre is reflected in a number of amateur and professional establishments which have been successfully operating throughout the city for decades.

You don’t need to go far or wait long for a dose of culture in Durham, as a string of well-run venues constantly compete to put on the most successful shows, which regularly sell-out. In addition to these productions, there are a number of award-winning festivals that draw in thousands to the city across the space of the year.

The University stronghold is arguably the stronghold of this vibrant performing community.

With nearly 30 different companies operating inside the framework of Durham Student Theatre, there are over 700 members performing, writing and producing dramatic productions throughout the course of the year. At the beginning on of the academic year, each society can be seen marketing on college campuses around the city, hoping to win the best performers for their productions. The oldest of these societies, with a history stretching back over 60 years, is the Durham University Light Opera Group.

DULOG performs four full shows each year, including a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well as a run at Durham’s own Gala Theatre. But it’s not all about opera, the Durham Drama Festival gives the other societies a chance to flex their performing muscles. During February, nine original productions are staged by amateur performers from the university. These plays are written by students and produced by their societies, with many of them going on to achieve success at the National Student Drama Festival. At this year’s award, students Harvey Comerford and Annie Davison took home their respective awards for Most Promising Actor and Actress.

It’s not just the students who put the hours in to retain Durham’s reputation as a performing city though.

The Durham Dramatic Society is an amateur dramatic group that has been operating for close to 100 years. Performing their shows in a 71-capacity theatre in the heart of Durham’s city centre, they have built up a solid reputation for performing up to five shows in a given year, often selling out their venue for an entire week’s run.

Finally, a lynch pin in Durham’s cultural calendar, the Durham Festival of Arts brings together the very best of amateur and professional productions for the hungry masses of the city. Running from the 2nd to the 23rd June, this year’s festival is promising to be the biggest one yet. Durham Student Theatre are co-organising the festival with Music Durham, bringing a programme that is packed with activities. University lecturers will be presenting writing workshops and Dramatic societies will be performing original productions, from full blown West-End style productions to faithful recreations of comedy classics, such as Blackadder III.

Many of these performances take place in the open-air, making Durham an ideal destination to visit during June. Book your tickets today to get in on the excitement!