“Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out”
REDfest is a new festival hosted at the Old Red Lion Theatre celebrating “the very best in new writing” Over 100 short plays were submitted, and they’ve been whittled down to the best 18 which are being presented here in three groups of six. Audiences have the opportunity to rank the six plays they’ve been in order of preference and the top two from each group will be invited to return for the final week, where they will play again and a winner selected. The victorious playwright will then be invited to write a full length work for the theatre next year.
Group 1 featured a slightly reduced line-up: John Grogan’s Old Street was M.I.A. but the other five more than made up for it with an eclectic mix of new writing dissecting everything from strained relationships, alien abductions and acting classes. Given that these were only short pieces, it was interesting to see the hugely different ways in which the playwrights set about their task and with a varied degree of success. The stronger ones were those that pulled us into their little worlds and gave hints about what might have happened before and hopefully leaving us wanting to find out more, but focusing on telling a strong story at the centre of it all.
Mike Carter’s A Peaceful Resolution was the best of the lot (and at least four people near me agreed!) with its two-hander about a whistle-blower going up against the government and wrestling with issues around whether moral questionability is ever acceptable in individuals or state institutions, evoking images of David Kelly but also Julian Assange. Powerfully acted by Grahame Edwards and James Sobol Kelly with director Dan Horrigan keeping a taut intensity to proceedings, this is the one to watch.
Philip Ayckbourn’s Internet Connection was the best of the comedies, a wryly observed piece about a warring couple who each find release through a bit of sneaky online dating, but in creating ideal fake personae, they find themselves falling for each other again and sharing their frustrations and desires to each other, unaware of who they’re really talking too. Ayckbourn has a sharp ear for the sparky dialogue of this feuding pair, played well by Grace Halladay and Andrew Bloomer, particularly the tiny things that annoy people and there was much truth in his analysis of the difficulties that can arise in communicating with those closest to us and conversely how easy it can be to talk to strangers on a computer screen.
Alien by Greg Lawrence was a little bit absurd, a little bit intriguing and really rather funny as a blind date with a rather unexpected twist; Frank Osborne’s Acting 101 stretched out its joke about a drama class led by a pompous act-tor well and with some humour, though it was hard to see where else it could go but Letters to Lilly by John Hayden suffered from trying to cram too much into tortured family history into its short running time. We barely had time to work out who the two men on stage were before launching into the troubled family tree, meaning there was no time to get involved with either character or their extended family and matters weren’t helped by some rather clunky acting.
So an eclectic group for sure, but one showing an interesting diversity to new playwriting that surely bodes well for the future. If you’re a little unsure about booking, then perhaps wait for the final week when the 18 will have been further whittled down to the best 6 and so you’re guaranteed quality across the board, but for those willing to take the chance (and I reckon you should!), go for it!