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Halesworth Ink Festival offers theatre opportunities for East Anglian writers

PUBLISHED: 12:01 21 April 2017

A Sperm's Life by Lewis Wilding, part of the Ink Festival, at the Halesworth Cut. Picture: MARTIN SMITH

A Sperm's Life by Lewis Wilding, part of the Ink Festival, at the Halesworth Cut. Picture: MARTIN SMITH


In three years the Ink Festival has established itself as a vital platform for new theatrical writing talent. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to artistic directors Julia Sowerbutts and Emma Struthers to find out how the festival has developed

Moussaka part of the Ink Festival at the Halesworth Cut. Picture: MARTIN SMITH Moussaka part of the Ink Festival at the Halesworth Cut. Picture: MARTIN SMITH

In three short years The Ink Festival – a platform to provide East Anglian writers with an opportunity to see their work performed on stage – has gone from little more than a pipe dream to full-scale theatrical event.

The festival is the brainchild of actor and director Julia Sowerbutts and playwright Emma Struthers and first saw the light of day in 2015 as an emergency replacement for the HighTide Festival which had moved from Halesworth to Aldeburgh.

Playwright Emma Struthers was studying for a MA in scriptwriting at the UEA and felt that there was a need for a festival celebrating East Anglian theatre writing in Halesworth. She contacted James Holloway from The Cut about staging a festival which revolved around staging a series of short half hour plays and The Ink Festival was born.

Julia said: “I had just done a play at The Cut. I’m local and so Emma and I were put in touch with one another and we went from there. Funnily enough I did a MA at UEA in theatre directing, so we have complementary skills.”

Julia Sowerbutts, one of the artistic directors of the Ink Festival in rehearsal. Picture: MARTIN SMITH Julia Sowerbutts, one of the artistic directors of the Ink Festival in rehearsal. Picture: MARTIN SMITH

She said she is amazed how quickly the festival has developed. “The first year was very seat of the pants. We hardly had any scripts, it happened so fast that we didn’t have time to advertise but we knew we wanted to get it up and running and we learnt as we went along.”

This year they have some high profile support from writers like Esther Freud and Libby Purves and from actors like Bernard Hill, Helen Atkinson Wood and Jill Freud.

Julia Sowerbutts now works on the festival pretty much full time. The search for new writing happens all year round and their website keeps potential writers in touch with the festival throughout the year.

“It’s much more professional now. We are adding a radio play strand this year but it will continue to be very much an East Anglian festival. We are looking to celebrate and provide opportunities for writing talent coming from Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.”

A Sperm's Life by Lewis Wilding, part of the Ink Festival, at the Halesworth Cut. Picture: MARTIN SMITH A Sperm's Life by Lewis Wilding, part of the Ink Festival, at the Halesworth Cut. Picture: MARTIN SMITH

She said that a half hour limit provided a safe environment for a new writer to work in. It was long enough to develop a narrative and characters without need to get lost in a full three-act play.

“It’s good for audiences too, they like the opportunity to sample a number of different plays during the course of an evening. It keeps everything fresh and lively.”

While it may be good for the audience it provides a headache for Emma and Julia as they have to cross-cast plays and make sure actors aren’t supposed to be in two places at once as plays happen in different parts of The Cut in a rolling series of overlapping start times.

“It’s a logistical nightmare but I think we’ve got it all sorted. I rather like the idea that we have different plays going on at different areas of the building and audiences can pick and choose what they go and see.”

Emma said that it was important that the INK Festival celebrate talent from a wide age range. “At university we had a short play festival that attracted people from all walks of life and they were brought together by their love of writing and the love of theatre. This is what we want to do with INK. Our youngest playwright is 13 and our oldest actor Jill Freud will be 90 during the festival and we have all ages in between and that’s how it should be.”

She said that for new writers it can be difficult knowing how to break into the industry and how to tailor their work for the stage. Part of being accepted for the INK Festival is that they get to work with directors and the production team and see the play developed and shaped by the rehearsal process.

Julia added: “I say to the writers, don’t be worried if the final performance isn’t exactly the same as the script you submitted because very few new plays remain untouched simply because rehearsals are designed to uncover what works, what doesn’t and how moments can be conveyed more effectively.”

Both Julia and Emma believe that theatre festivals like Ink are important because they inject new blood into a branch of showbusiness where less risks are being taken with new writers and commissions are increasingly hard to come by. “Unless we offer help with new writing there is a real possibilitity that our great theatrical heritage will just dry up.”

This year the Ink Festival is showcasing 13 new short plays and three radio dramas along with a variety of talks, performances, workshops and film screenings.

The Ink Festival runs from April 22-23 at The Cut in Halesworth. For more details about the weekend go to the website:

PANEL: The Plays

Moussaka, by Jon Canter

A delicious comedy about a businessman who takes his first wife to lunch in a Greek taverna. The young waiter struggles with their outsize order of nostalgia and ego.

The Hunted Man, by Bill Philpot

As if he didn’t have enough troubles, now Sara, his beautiful daughter, is stepping out with Archie, the “Renaissance Man”. Fear and loathing in the shires.

Times, by James Rose

A quiet, rural railway platform at 08:49. Someone said that all time happens at once. What happens when the past enters our present? And that present affects our future?

Knock Knock, by Andy Powrie

Terry Britain was always a miserable git. Nothing improved when his wife ran off with a Hell’s Angel. Until today.

A Day in the (Married) Life, by Jan Etherington

Jude is restless and dissatisfied with her long marriage to Harry and one small event is enough to make her decide to leave him. But will he notice she’s gone?

It’s A Sperm’s Life, by Lewis Wilding

How do we first learn the meaning of life and love? In this odd-ball comedy a courageous batch of spermatozoa get an illuminating and hilarious induction.

Out For the Season, by Simon Farnham

With a debut season in the Premiership just weeks away, footballer Jordan Alexander is about to discover that the toughest challenges he’ll be facing are those off the pitch.

Modern Living, by Jack Stanley

1 estate agent with 1 flat to sell in a trendy part of the city. Can’t be that hard can it? Wait until they meet the people viewing the flat. A comic play all about people and property.

Him, Her & Them, by Bill Cashmore

Ruth and Tom. Tom and Ruth. Chance meeting and life’s chances. This comic play looks at how life can work out and how much our past exists in our present.

Another Northern Man, by Paul Kelly

A grief-stricken man visits a therapist after the death of his hero. Ominously, it’s not rehabilitation he seeks …

Shortcliffs Bed & Breakfast, by Callum Hale & Davey Goodwin

Two spinster sisters run an empty bed and breakfast on a desolate piece of coast. The arrival of a stranger stirs dark passions.

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