A Dangerous Cult?
Amidst reports that the ADC Is a “closed stage”, WILL HEILPERN puts his life in danger and uncovers a sinister cult at the heart of Cambridge’s theatreland.
Varsity has recently produced a superfluous number of articles criticising the cliquey cronyism of the Cambridge theatre world. Some see this as mere sour grapes from those on the outside of an institution that regularly produces student theatre of the very highest level. The Tab would traditionally side with this view point. However, a few weeks ago we received a shocking anonymous tip-off that makes Varsity seem more ignorant than embittered. Wild accusations stemming from reliable sources have drawn our attention to the very real possibility that the ADC is not simply a student theatre group, but a dangerous cult.
I was given the task of investigating this accusation, with the aim of exposing the dark practices that go on in the ADC. I took to spending my evenings in the ADC bar, hoping to masquerade as a Thespian: rolling cigarettes, sipping cocktails and repeatedly affirming that Beckett transformed my conception of not just the theatre, but of my entire reality. However, I quickly realised that it was not going to be easy. Even the lightest of my probing questions were deflected. Answers to questions about the rumoured rituals that go on in rehearsals were vague and defensive and usually ended with the other party relentlessly plugging ‘The Merchant of Venice’. Any use of the word ‘cult’ in my questioning led to vitriolic insults, a total lack of co-operation and swift, melodramatic exits from the bar.
I was starting to get down beat. Some of the more perceptive directors were becoming suspicious of my presence and I began to feel as if they were investigating me more than I was investigating them. Moreover, the threatening messages that I’d find daily in my pigeon hole successfully intimidated me, as did the man with a red cashmere scarf and the stare of a serial killer, who almost definitely followed me all the way back to College from the Sidgwick site (I did at least three U-turns in an attempt to lose him). At this point, I almost abandoned the investigation entirely. However, having had my suspicions of a backstage world that is corrupt, sinister and dangerous confirmed by these strange occurrences, I decided to spend one last night in the ADC bar.
Fortuitously I met Charlotte, a second year at Peterhouse, who had tentatively auditioned for a minor role in an ADC play in her first term. It was fair to say that Charlotte was fairly inebriated when I was chatting to her, but this should not undermine what she described to me with the utmost sincerity. Being the daughter of a renowned West End stage actor meant that the director took an immediate like to Charlotte and so he quickly made the decision to give her the lead role – a part that she had not even auditioned for. From then on a process of indoctrination started.
Charlotte explained to me that she was quickly invited to an exclusive ‘ADC social’ where she was asked to take part in an intimate ‘trust circle exercise’, in which all new members of the acting elite were pressured to impart their deepest and most embarrassing secrets, under the premise of destroying their ‘on stage inhibitions’. Charlotte continued that, in reality, these exercises are used in order to gain valuable information with which to blackmail the initiates into doing exactly what the cult desire. Indeed, it is believed that some of the most celebrated actors in Cambridge are being held to ransom in this manner.
I asked Charlotte whether there was any truth in the rumours that actors are actively encouraged to shun those outside of the ADC. She replied ‘Yeah, pretty early on I was forced to cut all ties with any friends I’d made outside of the Theatre scene. My Director said that they were a bad influence on my acting’. Cutting off is a process used by other cults, like Scientology, which encourages members to cut off all contact with family members or friends who express critical opinions about the cult. This leaves the young actors isolated from normal Cambridge society, allowing them to be radicalised more easily and giving them nowhere to turn if they want to get out.
Charlotte eventually broke down into tears after saying, ‘I have never even been passionate about acting, but now I’m a prisoner of the stage, forced to act according to the whims of various ‘edgy’ directors.’ When she had calmed down, she told me that anyone from the inside who expresses negativity about ADC, or tries to leave, will feel the full force of their malevolency and be victimised for the remainder of their time at Cambridge. Consequently she has been given an alias in this article.
Our research has not made absolutely clear when the Cult within the ADC first started. However, there are rumours that Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie first founded the exclusive club, and that it was subsequently transformed by their humourless successors into the veritable cult which we encounter today. Whether the conspiracy stretches further is again unclear, yet, given the disproportionate number of Cambridge alumni consistently finding success on stage and on screen, it seems likely. There is also potential that the ADC cult is linked to a much wider network of secret organizations within Cambridge. For example, The Tab is currently investigating the possibility that the Cambridge Union is in fact a Ponzi scheme.
For now, we recommend Tab readers to treat any potential encounters with this mysterious Cambridge underworld with hesitancy: do not call them a ‘cult’.