The Drama of Mann
I cannot express how delighted I was to be approached to come to the island to adjudicate the One Act Festival and Young Actor of Mann. It was a new one to me, and I had not managed a visit to the island since sailing into Doolish harbour at midnight aboard our Sea Cadet Training Ship. We sailed out at about two the following afternoon, so my whole previous experience of the island was fourteen hours in Douglas, at least eight of which were spent asleep.
This time however more than made up for it. The whole of the community of the island has been so welcoming that one could easily be mistaken for an old friend returning to the island rather than a stranger. The welcome aside, the scenery and atmosphere of the island is magical, as many have remarked before, going back thousands of years. And the food! I am only too glad that the airlines don’t charge for that particular type of excess baggage one carries back around one’s waist!
As for the festivals themselves, what a treat to be able to observe and adjudicate them. The One Act Festival brought laughter and tears, often in the same production. I saw performers who ranged from fifteen to eighty-five and all stops in-between, and each and every one of them had something unique and valuable to contribute. The styles ranged from the stylised to naturalistic and touched on themes from an unexpected change late in life to Faustian pacts with the cult of celebrity and even a Roald Dahl-esque twist in the tail.
Then there was the Young Actor of Mann. All anyone will tell you about this competition is that it is a nigh on impossible job to judge as all the young actors are so talented, and they certainly wouldn’t like to do it. As adjudicators we hear this often, but never before have I seen it so justified as here. It is inspiring to see these young actors and actresses willing to get up and present themselves for their talent to be judged. In Wales we have the Eisteddfod culture, we encourage all our young people to get up and compete in these competitions of singing, recitation etc. It makes the experience normal. But I know only too well it doesn’t make it any easier. So to see these youngsters willing to step outside their comfort zone and do it without that cultural norm, well… I feel the dramatic future of the island will be in safe hands. And I can confirm that it is a nigh on impossible job as all the young actors are so talented and cannot wait to do it again!
Gura mie eu
First up was Hog the Limelight’s production of Jilted Lovers Helpline by John Grim. I’d like to congratulate Mary and Jasmine (Christine Edge and Tracey Jones) for putting me off helplines for life. Though I did learn some rather original ways to deal with an errant spouse. I was also amazed that the ladies were so unflappable, despite the emotional (and sometimes physical) carnage going on at the other end of the phone. If you can calmly eat a hobnob and listen to Grandma smacking her lipstick (but not for grandad), then you’re a stronger person than I’ll ever be. The play went at a cracking pace and had some wonderfully dry lines. The setting was the perfect office, swivel chairs, lots of laughter and Captain Hook using his prosthesis as a dough hook – an image that would never normally cross my mind. It’s definitely part of the NHS Family care & Planning service, that the right hon Jeremy Hunt must never touch.
Heart in the Ground by Douglas Hill was the second play this evening entered by Rushen Players. Sensitive lighting, effective costumes and evocative Irish music opened this piece, which was performed by Mollie Workman and Michael Williams. It’s the story of Karen and Lee who are poor farmers from Derry. Somewhere in their very recent past, they lost their three-week-old Catherine to cot death. Their lives are shredded by the loss, but also by the law that says their daughter must be buried on church land amongst stone and strangers, and not on their farm forever in their care. The shadow of Karen’s brother looms but despite the vicious arguments and the subsequent revelations, Karen learns her strengths and Lee recognises the need to be kind. The final scene with the tiny coffin was a tribute to the cast and technical team. Their commitment to the subject and the understanding of the piece made it a pleasure, albeit a difficult, one to watch.
In contrast we finished the evening with CCTV by Derek Webb performed by the Service Players. Alex, Jane and Richie (Freddie Hall, Kimberley Quine and Mark Tyley) are the frontline defence at the Oaks Shopping Centre (and I blame austerity). In the event of a retail related catastrophe, (in this instance he was called Keith) attached to a child’s cap gun, they are what stand in the way of the Swat team that might have saved our lives. This crack team made up of Sudoku Alex who struggles with a tie and has a spiritual link to Sid James, Richie who’s microphone voice really should clear every sensible person to a safe distance, and Jane who can’t leave her shopping even when she’s breaking up a fight. It was just any old typical day, until Nigel Thijs as unskilled bank robber Keith, lost his ‘fick’ team of cohorts to one of the best Front of House announcements I’ve ever heard. Between them they delivered some great one liners, and looked like they were enjoying every minute. It was a lively and entertaining production, and a great finish to the night.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.