Period dramas have always been incredibly popular, perhaps because of the chance they offer to explore the challenges of another time, or the intricate costumes, rituals and ideas which are no longer the norm of the modern day. Saskia Dowley’s new play, Debutante, taps into these appeals with a “blend [of] romance and mystery, along with humorous moments” to engage the audience in questions of morality.
Directed and written by Saskia Dowley and produced by Sheffield University Theatre Company (SUTCo) performer, Maddie Farnhill, Debutante tells the story of a young woman named Amelia, who is preparing to enter high society at the debutante ball. The play follows her turmoil as she tries to manage various colliding relationships, alongside a secret love affair and a murder, all of which put her in a morally dubious position. Characters repeatedly find themselves trapped in difficult situations, forcing the audience to consider their own ideas of right and wrong.
Dowley describes the idea of the debutante ball as “a bolt out of the blue” which formulated organically over the course of a year, before it was ready for SUTCo. She refers to the “old age question” of imagination from which stories “just happen”, adding to the mystique of a play already full of mystery.
Part of its appeal is its novelty: SUTCo has not performed an original period drama in several years.
Dowley says that anyone who enjoys watching testing moral situations, and engaging in agonising questions of right and wrong will find themselves faced with a play that questions “when is it right for good people to do bad things?” and asks “are you justified in some of the decisions you make and some of the things that you do – do the ends justify the means?”
For both Dowley and Farnhill, the play has brought new challenges. “It’s my first time producing,” says Farhill, “and it’s been really rewarding because I’ve acted and written before, so I’ve done a lot with the creative side of theatre, but not with the producing side.
“Seeing how a play is put together and what needs to happen has been really interesting. It’s been stressful, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s been quite new to both of us but I think we’ve grown from it.”
Like Farhill, Dowley’s role as director is a first and understandably the page-to-stage process has been occasionally difficult: “The cast are incredible, they’re all really talented individuals but the challenges come from me being able to detach from the ideas of these characters that I’ve had in my head for so long.
“There have definitely been some really cool moments when an actor has done something completely differently to how I imagined it in my head and it’s so much better. I suppose the real challenge is letting my baby have legs in the world, and letting other people in.”
With love, secrets, murders and plot-twists, Debutante promises to be a show that ticks all the boxes for any soap-opera fanatic.
Debutante is on from 20-23 November at The Local Theatre.