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Creating dynamic new theatre with the audience in mind

PUBLISHED: 11:58 10 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:58 10 September 2017

Girls, a play in development last year, receives a fully staged performance at this year's HighTide festival. Photo: HighTide

Girls, a play in development last year, receives a fully staged performance at this year's HighTide festival. Photo: HighTide

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HighTide theatre festival celebrates its tenth anniversary with a week of premieres and new work staged across Aldeburgh. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to artistic director Steven Atkinson about HighTide’s success in discovering new talent

Heroine by Nessah Muthy, one of the new plays being unveiled at HighTide theatre festival in Aldeburgh. Photo: HighTide Heroine by Nessah Muthy, one of the new plays being unveiled at HighTide theatre festival in Aldeburgh. Photo: HighTide

Next week sees HighTide theatre festival launch its annual celebration of new writing and ground-breaking new theatre on the atmospheric Suffolk coast.

HighTide is also celebrating its tenth anniversary – ten years of championing new writing by some of the most exciting new talents in modern theatre.

Artistic director Steven Atkinson describes the festival’s philosophy as “adventurous theatre for adventurous people”. HighTide aims to tackle subjects which inform and entertain and have something to say about the world in which we live.

As the festival and grown over the years – HighTide has its roots in Halesworth at The Cut before moving to Aldeburgh two years ago – it has become more ambitious and has aspired to give audiences the best experience possible.

Kanye the First, receives it's world premiere at this year's HighTide festival. Photo: HighTide Kanye the First, receives it's world premiere at this year's HighTide festival. Photo: HighTide

They have also wanted to harness the atmosphere of their coastal location and have always made an effort to have one of its venues on the beach.

To mark it’s tenth birthday, HighTide have invested in a new temporary performance space called The Mix. It’s a 260 seat theatre space with state-of-the-art lighting and sound facilities which will enable HighTide’s fully staged productions to deliver performances with punch and polish.

As part of this investment in quality performance Steven Atkinson said they have decided to condense the festival into a tight five days and have the development teams refining and re-shaping the plays with each performance.

“In the past the creative team has only stayed on the show until the opening night. So, really, the new plays stopped developing from the opening performance. So what we talked about doing this year was finding a way to make the entire festival dedicated to developing these new plays.

The Mix, the state-of-the-art theatre space being erected on Aldeburgh beach for the HighTide theatre festival. Photo: HighTide The Mix, the state-of-the-art theatre space being erected on Aldeburgh beach for the HighTide theatre festival. Photo: HighTide

“So what we have decided to do, is after every performance we are going to ask the audience (who are happy or able to do so) to remain and give their feedback about what they have just watched.

“We will pass on this information to the writer and director who will incorporate the relevant information into the following night’s performance – and in-between performances they will continue to rehearse to make it better.

“So the festival has become more about developing plays rather just premiering plays and making the audience an integral part of the development process. Then, on the final Sunday, audiences will be invited to semi-staged previews of next year’s plays: Bush Meat by Jon Barton and Lit by Sophie Ellerby and again people will be asked for their feedback which will be incorporated into the rehearsal process.”

Last year’s work-in-progress Girls by Theresa Ikoko will be returning for a fully-staged performance following critically acclaimed runs in Edinburgh and at the Soho Theatre in London. “It will feel very different this time around. Last year it was performed in a 50 seat auditorium and was brand new. Now it will be in a 260 seat venue, it has been refined, played to audiences and has proven itself to be successful and so it has enabled the play to grow and rise to meet the challenges of a bigger space.

“I am looking forward to seeing it again because it is very much a play of our times. It is about friendship but it is also about Boko Haram and the practice of kidnapping girls and women. Sadly, the situation still goes on and is still as relevant as it ever was.”

He said that on the back of the success of Girls, HighTide, in collaboration with Channel 4, has commissioned a new play from her while the National Theatre is also looking to work with her.

This year Nessah Muthy and Sam Steiner are two emerging talents are also looking for a career boost from having been through the HighTide theatre finishing school. “HighTide inspires the next generation of writers to be as good as they can be. The theatrical institutions all know who have been through the festival in recent years and therefore Nessah and Sam are working very hard to create dynamic plays which show off their skills.”

Nessah Muthy has written Heroine about a female soldier having to adjust to life in civvy street after a medical discharge, while Sam Steiner’s Kanye The First is a comic drama about the nature of celebrity.

HighTide theatre festival runs at multiple venues across Aldeburgh from September 12-17. Tickets are available online at hightide.org.uk or by phoning 01728 687110.

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