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INK FESTIVAL – Halesworth Cut – envoi 2019



  I saw 22 plays in two days,  but it was hardly half a bite of what was on offer.   In three days there were  40 , each performed several times.  Everyone made jigsaws, scuttled between them, as if at a miniature – and better-natured- Edinburgh fringe.

         There were  145 credits :  writers, directors,  actors,  designers, crew.    Overseeing it was a  host of even-tempered volunteers , a management team of superhuman equanimity,  and the artistic director Julia Sowerbutts occupying a minimum of three places at once.  But almost the most astounding aspect of the 2019 INK festival of short plays was the footfall:  from opening time on Friday until the last performance on Sunday night,   the Cut  – its cheeky satellite “Kings Theatre” in the car showroom next door, and the tiny Museum up the hill  – were buzzing. Queues formed,  timetables were scribbled on, recommendations eagerly swopped.  

      And, for here is no elitist separation of pros and ‘civilians’, for three days you could see  actors ,  directors and specialists  of all ages and types being buttonholed (sometimes in actors’ case while rushing to their next show)  to be congratulated or asked advice.  That’s one of the rich pleasures of this unique festival:  it feels democratic, discussive,  open:   in a way that  the making of theatre should be,  and too rarely is.  Some of the plays came from seasoned old hands, or known names (though often writers or performers shyly trying out something new to them).  A smattering of  celebrity names helps, but most every year are just submissions, filtered over months before,  from people who have never seen their work brought alive  in front of an attentive audience.   Certainly not by directors and actors of the high solid calibre that INK now commands.  Each of us learns from that, in fascinated humility at the alchemy of collaboration.

         The shortest plays are five minutes,  the longest rarely over 25.   Some you could  classify as good-quality sketches –  one excellent joke delivered with brio, one apparent cliché debunked with a wicked twist.  Others you sense are the germ of a full-sized play;    embryos,  waiting for more work now that the author has seen, live,  what aspects come most vividly to the fore.  Others again are complete  evocations in miniature of a world or a character you don’t quickly forget. 

       There is immense value in this gateway, too little acknowledged and not, I think,  reproduced with such grandeur in any other region.     One writer for this year’s festival is 18, another 14:   there will be in the future, playwrights of international repute who can say that their first modest effort was a fifteen-minute squib in Halesworth.  Possibly in the car showroom.   There are actors of every generation, teen to nonagenarian,  working together;  faces you have seen on screen or stage elsewhere,   others you probably will.  

      The plays were about love in all its varieties,  ageing, jazz, misunderstandings, enraging relatives,  revolution, politics, sex trafficking,  pig-farming, Tinder, being a dog, and theatre itself.  Those were just the ones I saw:  only half the total.  Some were for radio.  Some were wickedly funny,  others shockingly moving, one involved nudity and had to be restricted by the conscientious ushers to  over-16s only.  

     But because they are all short  – here’s another INK-miracle –   nobody in the teeming, fascinated crowds of audience shied away from anything.   Those who like their theatre solid and meaty can brave a brief few minutes of utter frivolity;  those who normally have a dread of earnest “issue drama” find,   using up a twenty-minute gap in their schedule, that they are  to their surprise easily drawn in to a tale of refugees or the pain of infertility.  

        It works.  It is the seed-corn of theatre and of new writing.  My only beef is about the ones I missed:  luckily some of them are on the Feast from the East Tour.   See below.  Two at least of them I loved.  Two I haven’t seen yet. See you there. 

        Small can be very beautiful.  Suffolk can be proud.     



Please contact the theatres directly through their websites or box offices for tickets

Thursday 18th April – Sir John Mills Theatre –  Ipswich – 01473 211498

Friday 19th April – Headgate Theatre – Colchester – 01206 366000

Saturday 20th April – Headgate Theatre – Colchester – 01206 366000

Tuesday 23rd April – Sheringham Little Theatre – Sheringham – 01263 822347

Wednesday 24th April – The Garage – Norwich – 01603 283382

Thursday 25th April – Westacre Theatre– 01760 755800

Friday 26th April – Fisher Theatre – Bungay – 01986 897130

Saturday 27th April – Bradfield Community Centre– 01986 872555

Sunday 28th April –  Brandeston  Village Hall – 01728 685655




AFTER PROSPERO by Martha Loader

Comic parable for our times set some 400 years after Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A storm is about to break over Prospero’s flooded island home. Squabbling sisters, Ariel and Miranda, are reunited for their father’s wake.


NINA’S NOT OKAY by Shappi Khorsandi

A night out on the tiles with 17-year-old Nina is fuelled by something far more potent than drink.


WELLINGTON by Scarlett Curtis

Three quirky women — granny, mum, and daughter — cram on the sofa and the watch the royal wedding on television.


MIXED UP by James Mcdermott

A comedy drama about music, mix tapes and feeling mixed up.


BUS STOP by Dan Allum

A clean-cut American is taunted and teased by a precocious lass as they wait for the last bus to the unlovely Green Hill Estate in Huddersfield.


THAT’S GREAT! by Shaun Kitchener

Rory is desperate to go out with Jake. His flatmate Harry is desperate to help him. So why does the plan go so desperately wrong?


THE SOUND GUY by Corin Child

A clumsy sound technician is having a serious problem with his plugs at a rally organised by right-wing patriots.




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INK  FESTIVAL            Halesworth Cut – Tour starting…



  The INK  new writing festival (http://inkfestival.org) is a phenomenon: a space where writers of any experience or none  can submit short plays (most under 15 minutes)   or radio plays or indeed musicals in miniature,   and – this is the important  bit    see their work professionally acted and directed.  As a source of seed-corn for new dramatists, or diversification for existing writers, it is unique. 



       This was its fourth year and undoubtedly its strongest yet:  I saw 18 of  26 plays, and left only one with a shrug.  It now gets hundreds of submissions, and its artistic direction led by Julia Sowerbutts (who has previously transferred productions to the Pleasance) manages to avoid the dour “new-writing” trap of issue-led portentous doominess,  without shying away from tough or shocking subjects when they are well handled.


    So cheers to INK 2018:  and here’s to its short  tour of a few picked plays, starting next week.  I’d want, though, to give other hon. mentions to several not on the tour:  not least Martha Loader’s  angry HUMBUG, a skilful crescendo from banality to rage, and a mischievous BLOOD PRESSURE by Jan Etherington in which  an A&E patient demanding a transfusion turns out to be a 147-year-old vampire too diffident about intimacy to get his blood the proper way.  Bien imaginé, as the French say. 


       As to the tour , it is led by The Inkredible Five,   brief six-minute plays by local known writers Sowerbutts challenged to write around a pile of antique suitcases.  Full disclosure: I am one, but frankly wholly eclipsed in anyone’s terms by squibs like Richard Curtis’  furious diva being misdirected through Evita, and Blake Morrison’s Cold War spooks trying to exchange suitcases.   To complete the set there’s a poignant Esther Freud piece, and Steve Waters (who wrote the wonderful Temple for the Donmar)  with a strange epiphany at port security.   


       But the real meat is in the longer, 15-minute or so,  submissions.   Madeleine Accalia’s WHITE GIRLS is stunning: clever, nuanced , moving from social comedy to anger, naïveté to embarrassment,  tones perfectly caught by Molly McGeachin and Amber Muldoon (a young actress who seems to me a serious find).   They are gap- yah daughters of privilege and insouciance, ignorance and goodwill.  But they are relating their trip – so cool in their shades and Timberlands! – to volunteer at the Calais jungle camp. They moan amusedly in the warehouse and kitchens but then are struck by the Glastonbury-turned-Hell that was the camp at its peak, by the children and the danger and the hopelessness and the incomprehensibility of it being in civilized Europe.   With a bare stage and a coat stand, their bouncy confessional becomes well- caught voices of refugees, a braggart Aussie, wearily seasoned helpers, press, instagramming fellow teens, and of course posh Mum at home urging them not to get filthy and grow lesbian armpit hair and vote Corbyn…   Not a word is wasted, not an emotion or observation false.


      Next to it THE KISS by Millie Martin is set in the days when chivalry dictated that a divorcing man hired a private investigator and   faked an encounter with a prostitute : a Labour MP, quivering in distaste, removes his bowler and suit in a hotel room and in an unexpected moment of pure theatrical fantasy the action moves deeper inside the protagonists.  And there’s Ross Dunsmore’s COLD CALL, as a pair of callcentre workers fall out.  Which was sharp and funny enough to make me recant mygrumpy middle-aged fatwa on  plays about doomed romances between whining millennials.   

      So there it is: some of these are plays that could grow to full length; some are just perfect as they are, like short stories or really good songs.  The world should pay attention to INK.   

 Touring East Anglia 12-22 April 


rating:  oh,  a whole festival of fast-breeding mice to share around

Touring Mouse wideMeece with mask tiny compressedMeece with mask tiny compressedPreview Mouse

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