Top universities for student drama – Scotland and northern England

Young female performer on stage
Star in a Shakespearean tragedy, explore Chinese theatre or shout ‘She’s behind you’.

The majority of student drama societies are very welcoming and will try to find a role for willing participants be that on stage or behind the scenes. So it’s no surprise that the appropriately named Open Theatre at the University of Leeds tells novices: ‘We want to hear from you even if you would like to stage IKEA: The Musical’. Many large societies also run theatre workshops for beginners.

Whether you’re entirely new to acting or already have some experience, our selection below shows that student drama is rich, varied and with something for everyone.

Durham University

The university is based around its colleges and 12 of them have their own theatre groups. The university also has three comedy societies and five musical theatre and opera societies, so there's plenty of scope to inspire through the power of song and chuckle. There are six societies devoted to classic and modern theatre. To complete our statistical analysis, the annual Durham Drama Festival (DDF) showcases the nine best new plays written by students at Durham University.

  • Shellshock is the university’s improvised comedy society.
  • The Durham Revue does sketch shows at the university, tours other unis and takes a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.
  • Durham University Classical Theatre (DUCT) ploughs the forgotten furrow, reviving interesting neglected works.
  • Fourth Wall’s goals are to stage translated plays, new student drama and the likes of David Hare and Edward Albee, plus other modern dramatists.
  • Raving Mask concentrates mostly on the theatre of the absurd. Challenge hierarchies, shake the audience from its complacency, create art from futility but – most of all – put on an interesting play and then have a society social.

Public theatres:

  • The Gala Theatre.

University of Edinburgh

Edinburgh, of course, is world famous for its summer arts and drama festivals. The university contributes to those but has a year-round diet of dramasoc productions for audiences and student participants.

  • Footlights is the university’s largest performing arts society. Past shows include Fame, A Chorus Line and West Side Story.
  • The Edinburgh Revue is a stand-up and comedy sketch society with an open door for performers, directors and writers whether novice or experienced. It takes part in ComicVision in which student comedy societies across the UK battle it out to see who is the funniest.
  • Relief Theatre is a community theatre project. Its workshops are on anything from drama games to stage blood.
  • Escogriffes: Oui, it’s the society for French theatre, ‘with an emphasis on fun’ say its organisers.
  • The Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company runs workshops on literary analysis, theatrical history, adaptation and costuming as well as staging the Bard’s plays.
  • Edinburgh Studio Opera is the university’s opera society.
  • The Edinburgh University Theatre Company puts on over 40 performances a year. It runs Bedlam Theatre, a 90-seat theatre in the centre of the city.
  • The Improverts has long been keeping the students smiling with its Exam Season Shows. The troupe is one of the university’s most successful dramatic societies.
  • Theatre Paradok has notched up success with adaptions of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. It’s an alternative theatre society.

Public theatres:

  • Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre
  • Royal Lyceum Theatre
  • Traverse Theatre
  • Kings Theatre
  • Festival Theatre.

University of Leeds

Students have a range of drama societies to choose from covering the main genres of theatre. The university’s plays have gathered some excellent press coverage and national recognition.

  • Backstage is for students interested in lighting, sound and other behind-the-scenes theatre skills.
  • Comedy Society has Leeds Tealights – a sketch show that’s tackled topics from Roald Dahl to politics and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. It also develops stand-up and improvised comedy.
  • Stage Musicals Society performs big-name, traditional musicals; Musical Theatre produces some shows out of the mainstream.
  • Open Theatre creates brand new, student-written plays at the admirable rate of around five a year. ‘We want to hear from you,’ it says, ‘even if you would like to stage IKEA: The Musical’.
  • Pantomime Society is behind you, of course, and is open to all performers, directors, writers, stage hands and student dames.
  • Theatre Group covers the lot: classic plays, modern ones, student-written scripts, Tom Stoppard and Titus Andronicus.

Public theatres:

  • The Carriageworks
  • Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House
  • West Yorkshire Playhouse
  • City Varieties Music Hall.

University of Manchester

The University of Manchester is a little northern powerhouse of dramatic enterprise. And if you’re a medic as well as an actor you’re in for a treat…

  • Drama Society (UMDS) runs the Manchester In-Fringe Theatre Awards (MIFTAs), with up to 12 plays staged in three weeks. It has also launched a monologue and duologue showcase, and a new writing competition.
  • Gilbert & Sullivan Society (MUGSS) likes to party when it’s not staging Ruddigore and other plays by the theatrical partnership. The society once hired a helicopter to land on stage.
  • Infamous Medics Panto Society is one of a duo of drama groups run by Manchester’s students of medicine. Manchester Medics Revue is the other, which takes shows to the Edinburgh Fringe.
  • Operating Theatre Company sounds as if it might be medically linked too. But it’s an interesting society set up specifically for busy students on intensive two-year undergraduate degree courses.
  • One Chinese Drama concentrates on Chinese drama.
  • Panto Society claims its productions can be rude and bawdy. The University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society says something similar. Its recent productions have included Titanic: the Musical and a comedy based upon A Private Function, Alan Bennett’s witty film about a stolen pig.
  • UoM Comedy Society is aimed at student writers and performers – and those who just want to watch.
  • Manchester Universities Technical Theatre Society (MUTTS) gives technical support to student productions and membership is open to students from all universities in Greater Manchester.

Public theatres:

  • Palace Theatre Manchester
  • Opera House Manchester
  • Royal Exchange
  • HOME
  • The Contact Theatre.

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