Graduate theatre companies offer comedy and romance at City's Fringe festival

28 Jun 2024
Girl Guides with two unexploded bombs

University of Winchester alumnae are taking centre stage at Southampton’s arts festival, So: Fringe (11-13 July).

Girl Guide comedy Spitfire Patrol! features three Winchester graduates - Charly Armstrong, Taya Campbell Over and Maijai Hibberd-Biss in starring roles.

Taya and Maijai are also the founders of the University’s first BA Acting graduate company, Wasn’t There a Man? which will be performing Pride and Prejudice as you’ve never seen it before.

Comedy Guide-lines

Dad’s Army meets Enid Blyton is how Charly Armstrong describes her one act play Spitfire Patrol! about a group of plucky Girl Guides in the Second World War.

The motto of the Guides is “Be Prepared” but the girls are anything but prepared when a Nazi, disguised as a nun, stumbles into their camp.

Charly, 26, from Hedge End, studied Drama and Performing Arts at Winchester and graduated in 2020.

Coming out of university during Covid meant there was no work in the theatre, so Charly decided to create her own shows and her own theatre company, The Garret Theatre Co

Spitfire Patrol! is Garrett’s latest production.

“I was a Guide and my mother was a Guider. I’ve been going to Guide camps since I was four-day-old and I’ve always wanted to write something about the movement,” said Charly.

But it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine which inspired Charly to create a piece about the consequences of war for ordinary people.

The show received its premiere at Foxlease the former home of the Girl Guides in the New Forest which now up for sale.

A charity, Foxie’s Future, has been formed in a bid to buy the main part of the centre and save it from closure. Performances of Spitfire Patrol! have supported the campaign.

Regency couple sitting on steps with their heads togetherAusten with added movement

Taya and Maijai, both 23, formed their own drama company after graduating in 2023. They take their name, ‘Wasn’t There A Man?’ from Maijai’s grandmother’s reaction to Maijai being cast as Mr Darcy.

Pride and Prejudice, the company’s debut show, blends Austen’s original dialogue with improvised movements so no two performances are the same.

Both performers enjoyed improvised movement performances at university (they were the subject of Maijai’s dissertation) and wanted to explore the discipline further and combine it with dialogue.

Maijai explained: “The movements of the characters change with how the actors feel at that moment. I could be saying the lines but running about the stage because that’s how I feel I can show Darcy’s inner conflict.”

This adaptation remains faithful to Austen’s novel but is pared down to four characters, all of whom are on stage throughout.

Taya, who plays Lizzy Bennett, and Maijai have written different adaptations for different cast sizes and performance spaces.

“We hope to start touring. The show can be 20 minutes or two hours. It’s ideal for performing outside or in heritage venues,” said Taya. “It’s our dream to do a full-length version with the full cast of characters but that might not happen for a while!”

Senior Lecture in Drama at the University of Winchester, Helen Grime, said: “It is great to see University of Winchester alumni theatre companies taking their work out into the local area, especially so soon after graduating.

“It is a tribute to the tenacity and creativity of our graduates and to the teaching team in the Department of Performing Arts who support and encourage students to explore ways of creating their own work.”   

Pictured top from left: Lara May, Taya Campbell Over, Charly Armstrong (writer) Madeleine Haddock, and Kitta Kearns in Spitfire Patrol!

Above: Maijai Hibberd-Biss (Darcy) and Taya Campbell Over (Lizzy) in Pride and Prejudice.


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