Touring – reviewed at The Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk
The INK new writing festival 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 honorary 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 locally 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.