Stepping back into our French theatre archive
Graduate Marka Rifat reflects on her time in Les Escogriffes in the late 1970s and how student societies and creative networks can add so much to the university experience.
In a typical year, many of our students in European languages would be getting ready to take to the stage in our annual Festival of European Theatre.
As we can’t stage our productions this year, we’ve asked former student Marka Rifat to share her memories of being part of Les Escogriffes, the French theatre society.
Marka studied a single honours degree in French between 1974 and 1978 before undertaking a postgraduate course in journalism at Cardiff University.
She became a radio news journalist and television presenter, then moved into communications for the Royal Mail, the BBC and the NHS, among others.
Understanding and appreciating modern writers
Marka joined Les Escogriffes in the first year of her studies, simply to “help backstage, hear spoken French and watch drama”. Instead, director Andrew Dickson asked her to play six-year-old Esther in the “uncut and ever-shocking” 1928 play ‘Victor’.
Speaking about this experience, and her membership of Les Escogriffes over the years, she says “I learned from amazing actors around me, especially the inspiring, mischievous and much-missed lecturer and Les Escogriffes founder, Peter Allen.”
“My vocabulary certainly expanded through immersion in a wide variety of plays, as did my understanding and appreciation of modern writers, encouraging me to study 20th century French poets during my degree.”
“Being in an ensemble of friendly, energetic students from every year, along with non-students, was also a valuable and enjoyable complement to studying on my own.”
Being an Escogriffe was a joy
Over the years, Marka played Esther in ‘Victor’, Marthe in Camus’ ‘Le Malentendu’, Lis in Arrabal’s ‘Fando et Lis’, and Boy in Beckett’s ‘En Attendant Godot’' - the latter staged at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.
Asked about her favourite memories of the productions, she mentions the challenges of performing script-in-hand to evoke the tension in 'Le Malentendu', and of “trying to maintain my circulation while in a perambulator for the passive aspect of Lis”.
There were lots of funny moments, onstage and off, from meeting the amused French consul while wearing Esther’s costume (complete with purple ballet shoes), to “laughing non-stop with the Esco float during the Rag Parade… being an Escogriffe was a joy.”
But it was the people who stood out most, with Marka highlighting “Generous support and advice from the abundantly talented Michael Worton, hearing the exquisite singing of elegant Esco Meg Falconer, observing the directors, particularly Peter and Andrew Dickson, bring page to stage, and appreciating the teamwork of a production”.
Learning never stops
Speaking about the benefits of studying a language, Marka reflects “Shared language is a communications bridge to a wealth of culture and much more.”
“My visits to France and meeting French speakers have afforded me experiences only possible through facility with the language, such as becoming a translator and conflict resolver when concerts were staged for fans of British punk in La Sarthe; being an impromptu wedding guest in Yemen because the groom wanted to demonstrate his French; supporting a Parisian TV team documenting the NHS; and holding monthly, two-hour, all-French conversations with a nonagenarian former French teacher.”
“My degree fostered a profound interest in communication and while my careers have mainly involved English, my love of learning languages, their structures and origins, continues.”
“Working towards a degree taught me invaluable and transferable skills: researching, understanding context, being open to new ideas, listening, coping under pressure, collaboration, shaping a narrative, knowing your audience, presentation, the power of clear and compelling language, and above all, that learning never stops.”
Marka appears in a number of the photos in Les Escogriffes Archives, a collection put together by Anne-Laure Brugnon and Sylvain Blanche, with the help of Moa Bell (Les Escogriffes, 2018) and Véronique Desnain. You can browse the Archives online on Issuu.
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