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  • Alan M Hayes

All England Theatre Festival 2022

Alan Hayes GODA reports from the English Finals at the Courtyard Theatre, Hereford.

The Final of the one-act play festival for 2022 was an excellent, often exhilarating experience. Combining the youth competition with the adult version proved to be a very successful decision. This resulted in each of the four sessions comprising of two plays, one from each of the competitions, with the quality on view over the two days set at an exceptional standard.

The first session set the tone with Central Area’s winning group, TACT (Total Arts Community Theatre), impressing with their design skills, repositioning the tales of Ovid into an Art Deco world of the 1920s. The text selected was one originally devised for the Globe Theatre in London and, while the visceral attack of the original performances was softened by the increase in cast from four to seven and the decrease in strong language, profanities and audience confrontation, the company acted with confident assurance and the set and costume looked ravishing. Northern Area was represented by Nantwich players performing ‘Swallow’ by Stef Smith within the second session and this was a raw, uncompromising masterclass in punchy, visceral theatre, performed by three accomplished actors, who were all at the top of their game. This was a really impressive piece of theatre. The third session included the Western area winners, Box House Theatre Company with a piece of ultra slick physical theatre, devised by members of the company. This piece was endlessly creative, embracing clever use of drama, laced with humour and a strong sense of narrative. Memorable theatre devices permeated the piece, which was delivered with panache and a keen sense of theatre. In the final session the Eastern area was represented by Woking College Theatre Company’s performance of Tamara Von Werthern’s play ‘The White Bike’. The design for this piece allowed room for the cast to breathe and create interesting shapes and stage pictures. The acting was sound around the luminous central performer, Saruulzaya Tserenbat as Isabelle while the message of the play was crystal clear and had undeniable dramatic impact.

The performance quality of all four of the adult plays was excellent and the variety of styles was satisfying, but there had to be a winner of the competition and no-one could envy the task before the adjudicator, Jennifer Scott-Reid. Declaring the decision to be extremely tight, Ms Scott-Reid decided that TACT’s ‘Metamorphoses’ would be the winner of the John Maude Trophy for best production, with the adjudicator’s discretionary award (Paul Dyson Trophy) going to Sian Weedon’s powerful, sustained performance of Anna in Nantwich Players’ entry ‘Swallow’.

As with the seniors, the Youth competition comprised of four companies in a pleasing variety of styles. Western Area was represented by the St Albans Player’s take on Alan Ayckbourn’s faux gothic play, ‘A Cut in the Rates’, the three young actors developing a sense of looming dread through the strength of their acting and well-chosen sound effects. Eastern Area’s LCA Stage Academy presented ‘Three Kings’ by Stephen Beresford and this well drilled young cast provided moments of both pathos and comedy in their slick performance. Central Area’s Impact Youth Theatre had the largest number of performers of the weekend involved in ‘Rats’ Tales’ based on a Carol Ann Duffy set of linked stories; this young ensemble company made impressive use of the whole of the large stage with a vivacious range of stage pictures and carefully staged groupings. Finally Northern Area’s Northern Performance Academy performed the intense social drama of Kelly Nevett’s ‘Waiting For Him to Die’, the young cast mining rich layers of sensitivity and character motivations with intelligence and skill.

The Youth competition was won by Impact Youth Theatre whose ‘Rats’ Tales’ was duly awarded the Youth Trophy. TACT won the Irene Gartside Trophy for stage décor, and the Rex Walford Trophy for exceptional creativity was awarded to Woking College Theatre Company for ‘The White Bike’

Well done to all of the participators in this wonderful weekend of the best of the country’s thespian activity. Later this month in Rhyl, England’s winning production of ‘Metamorphoses’ will be set against winning teams from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to discover Great Britain’s winner, promising still further affirmation of the strength in Amateur Drama at this time.

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