HIGH TIDE FESTIVAL.

The Cut Halesworth Suffolk 27 April-10 May 2009.
The Festival

I really didn’t believe this was happening, let alone for the third year running. Two young theatrical entrepreneurs, Sam Hodges and Steven Jon Atkinson, have done what must be too good to be true. In a small rural town (it might even be a large village) using nothing more than an old industrial building along a narrow side road, they have created a two-week arts festival. Along to this admittedly attractive part of the country have trotted luminaries such as David Hare, reading one of his scripts, an act he normally confines to the select likes of the ‘National Theatre’ or Royal Court. And Michael Billington, theatre sage among critics, to talk about his still-newish theatre book State of the Nation.

Classy classical singer Mark Padmore, who normally wouldn’t open his lungs anywhere round here north of Aldeburgh, joins with Katie Mitchell (Katie Mitchell! – avant-gardiste supreme) and Stephen Dillane – who is real casting – in an evening combining the works of Schubert and the words of Samuel Beckett (eat what remains of your heart out, Jan Kott).

I discovered three spaces in which High Tide crashes, only one beginning to have any reasonable audience capacity when it comes to presenting such stuff without losing much more than your shirt.

The Plays

Amidst all this activity three new plays are taking the stage. They have a satisfying range of style and matter, and each might have emerged from such highly respectable addresses as the Bush or Royal Court. One of the writers has already had a play at the Court’s Theatre Upstairs, while one of the Suffolk spaces gave rise to the original Stovepipe last year, a play taken under the Bush’s wing to be remounted, with extra promenading, in a West London shopping-centre.

Up – nearly – on the Roof.

This year the Stovepipe space, known as the Gallery, a large, low-roofed attic itself, is given over to the longest piece of the season, Lydia Adetunji’s Fixer. It starts with a flight, and ends with one. Between, various journalists seek-out interviews with violent African rebels, something that’s not an easy experience – these rebels know their press-folk.

Well played as it is, there’s a sense this would often be happier – or at least as happy – as a film, with its location changes and short scenes making their specific point and moving between various sets of characters. Still, director Nathan Curry binds it sufficiently together and takis’ multiple-set provides distinct, strong identities for each place in the sun.

It’s a sharp gear-shift to The Cut’s other top-storey space, a rather spacious-seeming studio where Lucy Cauldwell’s two-hander Guardians brings together American Molly and Irish Conor in the home his parents have left unoccupied for a year. It’s a time that sees-out the young people’s relationship.

From early excitement Molly retreats to one end of the room, watching videos of other people’s weddings as her marriage crumbles. Dominating the dark room, its furnishings wreathed in packing that suggests departure, is a grand piano. It becomes an element that separates the two as Molly’s dreams for her husband’s musical future evaporates amidst his lack of commitment.

Finally, an answerphone speaks the dissolution. Cauldwell has the ability to make such realistic details significant – or, if you like, to incorporate her key images in a realistic account of young people. Sonya Cassidy and Andrew Simpson give delicately pointed performances as quiet as the desperation that seeps into their characters’ lives in Natali Abrahami’s keenly-focused production, set amidst Matt Prentice’s duly subdued lighting.

I’m happy for Polly Stenham, the young writer whose Royal Court Theatre Upstairs debut That Face gained a West End transfer. There’s no race, no competition between fine young writers. But, back Upstairs, it was Cauldwell’s Leaves that I found most impressive, and this new play follows at a similar level of achievement.

Meanwhile, at ground level.

After which, Jesse Weaver’s Muhmah, downstairs in the main auditorium, is a stylistic shock. Mother’s had a stroke and is looked after by dysfunctional offspring Selene and Michael. They’re on the defensive, against each other and a mysterious man who threatens their house from time to time.

This is Sam Shepard translated to Cape Cod and magnified. Characters turn in on themselves, and there’s pathos in the way Selene tries to organise life despite being as child-minded as her brother. Weaver’s play bursts forcefully at the audience, and continues to do so for a good hour and a half, providing little widening of its vision on the way.

Yet it’s acted with energy and conviction in High Tider Steven Jon Atkinson’s production, on takis’ tight-spaced trash-home set. And Meredith Macneill displays again the ability to make a lost soul sympathetic that she showed in the Arcola’s Small Craft Warnings last year.

So, which is going to e this year’s Stovepipe? And, given the apparent financial impossibility of High Tide ever happening at all, what’s to come next year? It’s a good festival that leaves you, without a trace of weariness or duty, wondering that.

FIXER
by Lydia Adetunji.

Runs 1hrt45min No interval.

Jerome: Todd Boyce.
Dave: Roger Evans.
Porter: Tunji Falana.
Sara: Rae Hendrie.
Tracksuit Man: Clive Llewellyn.
Laurence: Chike Okonkwo.
Chuks: Israel Oyelumade.

Director: Nathan Curry.
Designer: takis.
Lighting: Matt Prentice.
Sound: Steve Mayo.
Dramaturge: Samuel Hodges.
Assistant director: Joe Murphy.

GUARDIANS
by Lucy Cauldwell.

Runs 1hr 20min No interval.

Molly: Sonya Cassidy.
Conor: Andrew Simpson.

Director: Natalie Abrahami.
Designer: takis
Lighting: Matt Prentice.
Sound: Steve Mayo.
Video: Dick Straker for Mesmer.
Voice: John Tucker.
Dramaturge: Ben Power.

MUHMAH
by Jesse Weaver.

Runs 1hr 35min No interval.

Selene: Meredith Macneill.
Muhmah: Elizabeth Moynihan.
Michael: David Paisley.
Man: Mark Burrell.

Director: Steven Jon Atkinson.
Designer: takis.
Lighting: Matt Prentice.
Sound: Steve Mayo.
Voice: John Tucker.
Fight director: Kevin McCurdy.

2009-05-25 11:32:39

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