It seemed ridiculous to enter the darkness of an auditorium on such a beautiful sunny day, but that was what happened. The 2023 All England One Act Play Final was played out on the kind of day that screamed cream teas and picnics. Tewkesbury’s Roses Theatre was a great venue and the quality of the finalists was top notch. There would be an afternoon session of two plays, followed by an evening session of the remaining two and finally the awards distribution.
The event began at 2.00 and the Western area winner, St Alban’s Players, with a new play, ‘The Play’s the Thing’, written by and featuring Michael Haslett. This was a kind of metaplay, with our two central protagonists pondering a new take on Hamlet, broad considerations expressed while working out in a gym, before flights of fancy took them through Star Wars pastiche, TV gameshow, soap opera and a wonderfully conceived extract from Strictly Come Dancing, which perfectly mirrored the touring actors scene in the original play. A very funny script that repaid some close knowledge of Shakespeare’s play, delivered very enjoyable set pieces and was a very strong contender to win the Festival.
The second entrant was Jim Cartwright’s ‘Two’ performed by Lane End Players representing the Eastern area. Two very impressive performers gave a masterclass in multirole playing. From the opening scene the two actors demonstrated fine, sensitive performing skills and the varied cast of characters were given bravura manifestation. This certainly put pressure on the first play as this was another strong contender as winner of the Festival.
Opening the evening session was The Central Area’s winner, Total Arts Community Theatre’s performance of Sami Ibrahim’s ‘A Sudden Burst of Rain’. This was a production with serious intent and great skill. All aspects of the piece were carefully considered, from the tailored, colour coded costumes to the flexible, evocative set to the accomplished ensemble of Actors; this was a trial of creative strength in all aspects, peppered with indelibly memorable moments. Now here was a definite contender for best play of the Festival, but did it have a stronger claim than the two previous plays? A subject for audience discussion, perhaps?
Finally, to close the evening session and indeed the whole Festival, was Nantwich Players with their performance of ‘Comment is Free’ by James Fritz, representing the Northern area. Immediately from the start a technological approach was clear, with three large screens bordering the background and what consummate control of this technology was present throughout. Filmed sections were spliced across these screens, enhanced with live filmed sections, all delivered with professional aplomb. How did they prepare all of this in the few minutes between plays? It is important to stress that all of this was a setting for a most impressive piece of theatre, with a strong message conveyed through a committed cast of strong performers. This was a breath-taking performance that surely must be a strong contender as winner of the Festival? Another one!
What a strong line-up of plays had been brought together for this closing event of the year of One Act plays performed all over England and now it was the responsibility of the Adjudicator to select a winner. Fortunately we were in the capable, seasoned hands of Jan Palmer Sayer and she explained, analysed and assessed the work seen, and always she entertained. All four plays were credible winners, but Jan made a good case for ‘A Sudden Burst of Rain’ by Total Arts Community Theatre and this was named the English winner to travel to Belfast to compete in the British final in a few weeks’ time. It would be difficult to argue against such a well-conceived piece of total theatre.
The Paul Dyson Trophy, for Adjudicator’s choice was awarded to Ben Sansum and Alison Harnett of Lane End Players’ production of ‘Two’, which was a well-deserved award for such an impressive cast. The stage décor award, the Irene Gartside Trophy, was won by Total Arts Community Theatre for their creative support work on ‘A Sudden Burst of Rain’. Finally the Rex Walford Trophy for exceptional creativity was awarded to the Nantwich Players’ performance of ‘Comment is Free’, which was also so well deserved.
What a wonderful event this had been, where location, expertise and creativity had combined with such entertaining effect.
There was one comment made by Jan to the effect that this had been a very varied programme of plays and, while clearly I agree to a large extent, I did note that all four plays relied on multi role acting, so is this the current style of play or the vehicle that gives most opportunity for demonstrating acting skills? Or will an enterprising group select a more traditional style of play to enter and win next year? Cue the debate and bring on the 2024 Festival..