The Cut Arts Centre, Halesworth, Suffolk
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.
THE FEAST FROM THE EAST TOUR
HE FEAST FROM THE EAST: BEST NEW SHORT PLAYS FROM INK FESTIVAL 2019
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.