Fiona Helleur on the opportunity the One Act Play Festival gives young performers from the Youth Arts Centre

The MADF One Act Play Festival (OAPF) has been one of the highlights of our year for the past twenty plus years and it has always been a really enjoyable experience for our participating members. The Youth Arts Centre (YAC) is a place for young people to come and try everything without fear of failure and we encourage everyone between the ages of 8 – 19 to come along and join us in what we do, be it drama, musical theatre, music, arts, dance or whatever. Our inclusion in the OAPF has always been the bait to tempt young people who may never before have performed before an audience, let alone received critique for that performance. To take a deep breath, gird their loins, learn their lines and put themselves out there unadorned and open before their peers and also before an audience who has no interest in patronage, only in what is delivered.

Young people do not come to the YAC for glory and are not following an arts based syllabus or doing it for exams; they do it because they love the performing arts; they use their own time to find a play that appeals to them, learn to produce and direct, coax the best performances. They are usually a disparate group of young people who come ‘for a laugh’ and to be ‘with their mates’ then suddenly find themselves on stage, in front of that audience – and being judged. It’s quite a wake up call and for most of them, it could be the first time in their lives they get applause and receive positive comments about something they chose to do of their own volition and in their own free time.

Over the years we have presented musicals, Shakespeare, self penned and devised plays as well as published plays about confused identity, the death of a friend, forbidden love and AIDS. We have done comedies about a teenage night out and being a disgruntled superhero, as well as serious issue plays about being the only gay in town or transgender. We don’t shy away from matters that affect young people and in the process we hope to create some excellent theatre that will please the audience as well as the judges. We have had our times when a cast is so nervous they forget everything the second they walk on stage, when we have left costumes and scenery behind in error and the one where not only did the leading lady forget to turn up and had to be replaced by a script reading peer, but also a fellow cast member had to have insulin administered backstage. A night to remember.

Drama is now the only subject where young people have to learn by rote and repeat on demand before a critical audience. The pressure for these young people to succeed is immense but succeed they do thanks to the Festival that can see past the nerves and the braying bravado of a stroppy teenager to see the potential of every cast member who trembles his way through his lines, faltering then hopefully, suddenly and bravely finding their voice, a voice that will never leave them because they did it and did it well.

We have so many wonderful memories of the Oct Act Play Festival, the encouragement of the adult actors, the closeness of the cast when they realise that this is it – they are on stage and everyone is watching. The YAC can boast of its former members who made their debut at the One Act Festival of Plays who are now professional producers, directors, musicians, actors, singers and dancers who are appearing in films, on television and on stages all over the world. The backstage crew of sound and lighting engineers, stage managers, set designers and artists, and even a few barristers who learnt to speak up and out with us. These are people who are all making a living doing something they love and can all look back to this festival on the Isle of Man as the place where it all started.

  • Fiona Helleur, Head of Youth Arts
    Youth Arts Centre

British All Winners Festival – Final Comments

So that’s the festival done and dusted.  Unfortunately no awards for the Isle of Man representatives though Andrew Halstein did get a nomination for his excellent portrayal of “Denis” the Servant in R.I.P Mr Shakespeare, as did Service Players for their “Naturalistic treatment of emotional content” in Is This Seat Taken?

Thankfully Bejou Productions & University Players, Hamburg, our adopted cousins, were rewarded with Runner-Up Play in the Full Length Section (Bejou) and the Full-Length Audience Appreciation, Backstage Award and Adjudicator’s Award going to University Players.

We would also like to give a special mention and offer congratulations to Nicholas Marsh for his new play “A Frank Exchange”.  Maybe we’ll see this as a One-Act Winner in future years.

So very well done everyone.

Grab a full set of results on the NDFA website (www.ndfa.co.uk) or via the link from the MADF website.

The whole team at The Lamproom Theatre did a great job all week in making us all so welcome and creating a lovely friendly atmosphere, though they, like us seem to suffer from low audience figures for ordinary drama.  Let’s hope the quality we all witnessed can help to about turn this audience involvement in future years.

Bring on 2018!

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night Seven

Here is our final day’s report on an interesting and mostly very enjoyable Festival.  The first play of the afternoon was The Snow Dragons performed by InterACT Youth Theatre from Cheshire.  A lively bunch of kids who threw themselves into the production with great gusto.  Their depiction of a children’s resistance group hiding out in the woods and trying to help their beleaguered relatives in the town had a few nice comic touches and some pathos, although they didn’t manage to grow their characters as the script intended.  However this play was well crafted and enjoyable to watch and the integration of song throughout was very effective.

The second play, Lear’s Daughters by Total Arts Community Theatre – Tamworth, is a prequel to King Lear and explores the emotional turmoil and development of the 3 sisters.  The 3 differing characters of the sisters were well defined and the fool (acting as a sort of MC) and the nurse created an interesting framework for building the ensuing cynicism and hatred for their father and each other.  A powerful and provocative piece of theatre.

The final play was a romp depicting 2 drag queens preparing for their performances in a seedy club.  Untucked was performed by Drama Queens – Cambridge and brought the Festival to a colourful and dramatic conclusion.  The characters were well drawn and the actors made their rather unlikeable personalities worthy of our sympathy.  A very entertaining piece with a good mixture of comedy and pathos. A very different end to a Festival.

A full list of results will be published in due course.

That’s it folks. Thanks to NDFA and farewell.

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night Six

On the home run now with the last full-length play, a familiar offering of “The Night Alive” from the ever reliable Bejou Productions.

The set was carefully hidden from the audience by the curtain, or was the curtain simply stopping things from falling off the stage?!  Once revealed we were welcomed into the Dublin flat of Tommy, though how he could ever find anything in such an untidy, chaotic mess was a surprise.  Bringing all these props to the theatre must have been quite a logistical nightmare and certainly would have brought back memories of student days to many of us.

The team gave us good lilting Irish accents throughout the performance which helped draw us into the chaotic and somewhat lonely world of Tommy and his only real friend Doc, but with the introduction of Amy this world descends into more chaos and lots of trouble.

We were treated to some really natural performances from the entire team with the rather simple and slow-thinking Doc giving us a lovely characterisation and some excellent gentle comedy.  Maybe Kenneth could have been more menacing, but his presence was certainly felt.

This sensitive and sympathetic performance really examined a huge spectrum of emotions, managing to really mesmerise the audience.  Once again Conor McPherson has written a thought provoking, hard hitting yet wonderfully sensitive story.

With 3 very different full-length plays to consider our adjudicator Russell Whiteley should have to really think hard to tease out the right winner.

Our final report will be with you as soon as possible after the celebrations have died down tomorrow.

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night Five

Day 5 brought a very busy evening with 3 entirely different one-acts.

The first, After Liverpool, done by The Thursday Night Project from Esher, was a sharply observed take on the subject of communication (or lack of it!) in short vignettes cleverly welded into a whole.  The piece reminded us of a minimalist music score in that the themes were repeated numerous times but with subtle nuanced differences.  There was some good sensitive delivery and the ensemble playing created an interesting “ripple” effect to the piece.  Overall quite a satisfying experience.

The next group, Pump House CYT from Watford with Sparkleshark, were a very young group (8-14) who, notwithstanding their tender years, played out their story of bullying and reconciliation with great confidence and gusto.  There was an obvious air of enthusiasm from all the youngsters and the play was very well received and applauded by the whole audience.  With children like this the future of drama seems assured!

The final play Uke Belong To Me from Big Squirrel – Ely,  was a two-hander written by one of the performers Kattreya Scheurer-Smith.  Excellent, passionate performances from the two actors who ran the whole gamut of emotions taking us along with them from their rather bizarre meeting (man rescues reluctant bride, stuck up a tree with a ukelele – yes really!)  until the final realisation that they loved each other.  A very minimal set consisting of 4 boxes moved by the actors themselves set every scene perfectly.  A very well constructed play thoroughly enjoyed by all.  One of the best evenings so far.

We look forward to the final full length play tomorrow.

Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night Four

The audience swelled in numbers tonight with local support coming in from nearby Wakefield to watch Priory Players give us their version of Ray Cooney’s “Funny Money”, first performed in 1994 according to our Google search.

The real clue to this performance is in the title, as we all watched a very high paced, relentless comedy based around the innocent act of Henry Perkins picking up someone else’s identical briefcase.  He got the best side of the deal with a brief case containing £735,000 in used notes but the rogue who only got some papers and a half-eaten cheese & pickle sandwich clearly wasn’t going to be happy!

We were taken through a performance involving a dodgy policeman, an impatient taxi driver, a drunken wife who can’t cope with their new-found wealth and some pretty unhelpful friends!  This play was littered with sexual innuendo providing the audience with plenty of laughs.

The set was very good indeed.  Tim Falconer gave us an excellent lead character and Julie Kidd, his totally confused wife, became a very convincing drunk.

Overall we had a very well executed farce that thoroughly entertained most of the audience.

Back to one-act drama next.

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night Three

Hello again from Barnsley.  We had another great evening at the Lamproom although the audience was again rather small.  They don’t know what they are missing!

Service Players, winners of MADF’s One Act Play Festival, Isle of Man presented  “Is This Seat Taken?” with great verve and good comic timing but also with warmth, conveying the feelings of their characters with sensitivity. The whole gamut of emotions, anger, frustration, sympathy and love were portrayed with unaffected naturalness which made the characters totally believable in their desire to act out their overlapping role playing with conviction.  This provided a wonderful spectrum of contrasts amidst this comedy of confusion. The adjudicator seemed full of praise for the performance and also highlighted the authenticity of the good stage set (chairs and tables loaned by The Empress Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man and the bar originally built by David Daugherty and Lindsay Riordan for Service Players’ production of ‘Allo ‘Allo).  A most enjoyable experience for all concerned.

The second half of the evening was a reading of the winning play of the new playwriting competition – A Frank Exchange by Nicholas Marsh.  Without giving too much of the plot away (for those who may be lucky enough to see a fully staged version in the future) this was set in WW2 Amsterdam in the office of a German Officer in charge of finding collaborators and in the home of his Dutch secretary.  The interplay of emotions and the buildup to the somewhat startling ending was very well conveyed.  We were fortunate to be able to speak with the author after the reading and were able to convey our appreciation of an extremely well written and interesting play.

Tomorrow we will be entertained by the relatively local team from Wakefield and are looking forward to that.

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night Two

Another hot day in Barnsley though the temperature in the Lamproom wasn’t tested because the audience was woefully small.  In fact the performing team was probably greater than the audience!

University Players, Hamburg hit the stage with their co-themed two One-Act plays on Mary Shelley and her created monster.  The ambience generated by the Greek Theatre style chorus proved especially effective with excellent choral work, stylish period costume and atmospheric lighting.  The first play “Lift not the Painted Veil” slowly set the scene and nicely established the characters but maybe could have benefited from stronger contrasts from scene to scene and a little more dramatic impact.  Jana Stuven as Old Mary was particularly affecting in her excellent performance.

After the interval the second play “Frankenstein” proved stronger, exploring the sorrows and despair of all the characters.  The young and old creatures were both beautifully developed by Paul Kahre and Jasper Koch respectively, with plenty of cleverly worked choreography and movement.  The creature was even the hero at one point when he saved a girl from drowning in the wonderfully depicted lake, but this got him nowhere in the end!

Throughout this very atmospheric performance there was always wonderful ensemble work put together stylishly and tastefully.

Well done Hamburg.

More tomorrow.

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

British All Winners Festival – Night One

As this is the first time the British All Winners Festival has been held in Barnsley the town welcomed the assembling teams (and hangers-on!) to afternoon tea with the Mayor in their very impressive Town Hall.  We were treated to fine sandwiches, canapés and cakes as well as quite a bit of history, before repairing to the theatre for the opening night of the 44th All Winners Festival.

The Lamproom is a delightful small theatre and the management and volunteer staff extended typical northern hospitality to make us all feel at home.  Paul Haley, the Festival Chairman, welcomed the teams, adjudicator Russell Whiteley, and the audience and the entertainment got underway with two completely different plays by both youth and adult actors.

The first, from the Isle of Man, was Broadway Youth Theatre’s RIP Mr Shakespeare –  a vibrant and colourful production with excellent ensemble playing.  Andrew Halstein made a spirited Servant and was well supported by the rest of the cast.  The audience loved it, as did the co-author Bev Clarke who came to support them.

The second play, The Lesson, presented by the Didcot Phoenix Drama Group, was a complete contrast.  One of Ionesco’s “Theatre of the Absurd” comic dramas.  Very professionally put together and extremely well-acted though rather uncomfortable to watch.

We all then retired to the bar where volunteers provided some much needed refreshments!

A very good start to the week, and we look forward eagerly to the next performance, and giving you all our thoughts and observations.

More news tomorrow.

  • Karen & Michael Goodman

Final words from our Adjudicator, Robert Meadows

It was an honour and a privilege to be the adjudicator for the 65th Isle of Man Easter Festival of Full Length Plays. What a week! And with such a range of theatre to feast upon! We had works from two leading contemporary Irish playwrights, a new adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’ married to an original take on the life of its creator, Mary Shelley, an ‘In Yer Face’ farce, an original play, one particularly touching monologue and a modern take on the wives of Henry VIII. The choices provoked lively discussions amongst members of the audience which is what one would hope for at any theatre festival.

We were treated to many stand-out performances as well as some outstanding examples of stage presentation and stagecraft throughout the week. The groups certainly did not make my life easy when it came to making those final decisions.

An additional delight when adjudicating on the Isle of Man comes in the form of seeing the work of the Young Actors. There were eight very worthy finalists who demonstrated their ability to present extracts from musical theatre as well as performing modern monologues. The standard of all was first class and, again, it was a nightmare to decide upon the winner.

A further pleasure was in meeting the Friends of the Festival as well as past and present committee members and officers throughout the week and at the Easter Monday luncheon.  

Finally the support given to the groups – as well as to me in my role as adjudicator – was first class. All involved went about the business of making the festival a success with a real sense of enjoyment as well as being totally committed.

It was a very memorable festival for me.  And not just for making my arrival for the last adjudication through the trap door of the stage! Congratulations and good wishes for the future.

  • Robert Meadows, GoDA