Lancaster’s bunch of rising stars

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“Yeah, I’m writing a screenplay at the moment.” It’s a typical line you hear from people in bars that want to appear interesting, almost as common as “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” and ignored with equally casual dismissal. Rightly so, even, as most of the people you meet with supposed ambitious projects will get not much further than writing something like “will be similar to The West Wing” on the back of a napkin and keeping it in a box somewhere, never to be tampered with.

Will and the cast of UNIversal — Photo by Ben Robins

Not so for Will McDonagh, whose student-themed drama series ‘UNIversal’ has aired its first episode on LUTube’s website (lutube.tv). The series follows the misadventures of a group of freshers during their first year at Lancaster and all the things that come with that: romance, promiscuity, shyness, bickering, etc. Though only the first episode has been aired so far, it shows great promise, with tremendous popularity with students already.

But to initially pitch the idea, the production team had to go through some of that familiar dismissal that befalls most people that insist they’re working on something good. “I think the feeling was it might not work out” says Will. An overlook of the circumstances at the time might have led one to conclude that feeling to be right. After all, there was only a single person working on the drama and even when the ball got rolling a bit more the writing staff was still relatively small and no actors had yet been recruited to work on the project.

But they got by with a little help from their friends and through Facebook and word of mouth the project quickly gained steam. “I made a Facebook group basically because I was bored to see if anyone was interested and within a week two hundred people had joined!” It was at that point that they began to audition the actors and ended up with the current cast.

The characters in UNIversal are all fairly recognisable University archetypes and you’re likely to meet several people over the course of University life that these characters could easily have been based on. There’s the inevitable nervous shut-ins, the bossy drama queen, the girl still reluctantly tied into a relationship. All these people you’re likely to meet, as well as the idiotic self-proclaimed ladies man Julian Cook, played to smarmy perfection by Luke Weeks.

What makes UNIversal different from something like Skins (“I’d never really watched that show so I didn’t draw from it”, Will says) is the sense of being in a ‘bubble’ which will be very familiar to Lancaster students. Will explains: “Ultimately Lancaster is different because it is a community away from the ‘real-world’, a small town in itself. So that made telling stories much easier because you can use the campus as it’s own setting. The theme of the drama is itself about starting afresh, or trying to, and this atmosphere is a great amplifier of that.”

It remains to be seen how successful UNIversal will turn out to be as a whole as the show has yet to broadcast its second episode, however the first episode can be viewed both on the LUTube website and also on universaldrama.co.uk, where further information on the show can be found. If the success of the first episode is anything to go by, though, UNIversal looks set to be massive success among Lancaster University’s students and the next instalment is eagerly anticipated by us all.

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