Sampled Festival: Unfinished and Unleashed

HANNAH QUINN steps outside the conventional Cambridge drama scene and checks out some work-in-progress theatre.

cambridge junction hannah quinn Hollie McNish Louise Orwin Ollie Smith Sampled Festival

The Junction, 4th/5th May, £12/£15 day pass, £22/£25 weekend pass


Watching work-in-progress is a funny thing. From an audience point of view, you’re sitting through something that’s not even finished. For the artist, getting feedback from the audience has its own pitfalls. But it’s also fascinating: you get to see how an artist goes about developing their work and be part of that development, talking to the artists and hearing their ideas for the future. Sampled Festival was a celebration of the unfinished and unrealised; a mixture of pieces creeping towards the finish line and pieces which might never even be staged.

Unsurprisingly, not everything worked perfectly. As expected with unfinished work, we were left wanting. As two artists admitted after their show, the format was there, they just needed some content. But even with these issues, almost everything I saw felt innovative and exciting. It’s easy to get stuck in the bubble of student theatre here in Cambridge, putting content firmly before form, drifting between a play at Corpus and a play at a college auditorium and another at the ADC. Sampled reminded me that the world of performance can be infinitely more exciting.

To review an entire festival, especially one involving unfinished work, would be very difficult and probably inappropriate. Instead, here are a few of my personal highlights. [Disclaimer: even as a first-year English student who was able to take an entire weekend to ponce around watching performance art, I couldn’t see everything. But with a festival involving around 35 events over one weekend, that was inevitable.]

Louise Orwin – Am I Pretty/Ugly

We enter to see a woman in a pink dress and blonde wig filming herself on a phone. She poses on rollerblades and tells us the show is about us deciding whether she is pretty or ugly. We see some videos of her fake YouTube accounts, asking the internet whether they are pretty or ugly and we hear the abuse those videos received, directed in a kind of poem at a volunteer on stage. We hear and see her old diaries, her own, pre-YouTube obsession with being thin. We tell her whether she is pretty or ugly. As a teenage girl myself, this show resonated pretty deeply with me. I think it would with anyone who has ever been a teenage girl, or has known a teenage girl, or has seen the media’s opinion of teenage girls, or has been on the internet. At the risk of sparking commenter fury: this is why we need feminism.


Ollie Smith – Cat In Hell

We’re watching two people, handcuffed and manacled, with bags on their heads, dancing, doing escapology and talking about horror movies and drowning cats. Set to music. It was brilliantly odd. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it, but I definitely enjoyed it.


Hollie McNish – A British Tea Break

A thought-provoking and passionate poem about what it means to be English vs being Scottish, British vs Immigrant, the Daily Mail Effect, and snobbery. Plus, we all got tea and cake. Of course I liked it.

Made In China Theatre – Gym Party

My favourite piece of the weekend, this show was messy, physical and funny. There were gaudy wigs, weird party games, audience interaction and ‘sermons’ about winning, commercialism and being the best. Any show that ends up with a pile of spat-out marshmallows and half-eaten satsumas by your feet (assuming it doesn’t come from a disgruntled audience member) has to be a good one. Both thought-provoking and intensely fun, my main thought coming out of this was one I had repeatedly throughout the weekend: I’d love to see the finished show.