Halesworth's INK Festival returns today for a four-day run of original short plays around the town. Libby Purves reviews the action.

Join me on a parked Hoppa minibus where Henry VIII is chatting up a new Jane.

She is not impressed by the Tudor-Tinder qualifications  of a man who divorced two wives and killed two, but he  protests that he was "in a bad place back then".

East Anglian Daily Times: Henry VIII and Jane II in Pod 9BHenry VIII and Jane II in Pod 9B (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

Since faking his death and living on for 477 years he's taken up yoga, and deserves a new start.

This fifteen-minute treat is in the most unusual of the Halesworth settings for this year's INK festival; why not, since the bus usefully ferries people between the venues around the Cut?

Next I dive down to the Kiln studio for one of the radio plays, where Richard Braine pays homage to his fellow Ipswichman, Sir Alf Ramsay.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Terrorist working form Home' in Pod 5'Terrorist working form Home' in Pod 5 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

It imagines the 1974 moment when the hero of 1966 was sacked as England manager and his (real) friend Richard Burton might have invited Alf to join him and Liz Taylor in Mexico.

Romantic Welsh actor tries to make staid, seasick Ipswich man go marlin-fishing.

For the EADT I was given an opportunity to dive in and out of several days dress-rehearsals at INK, to report on what sort of fun is on the way this long weekend.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Light Entertainment' in Pod 5'Light Entertainment' in Pod 5 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

The festival, in its 10th year, is unique in the UK as a showcase for new short plays: it has enabled many first-time and improving writers to see professional actors and careful directors of all generations make their work come alive.

In a nationally stressed theatre ecosystem this seed-corn of theatre art is vital.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Asante and Sarah' in Pod 4'Asante and Sarah' in Pod 4 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

For the rest of us, as pure entertainment its one-hour "pods" are a treat.

Each one holds up to five different plays, enabling audiences to see characters, ideas, and some very good jokes professionally delivered without a journey and a long evening.

East Anglian Daily Times: '10..9..8' in Pod 6'10..9..8' in Pod 6 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

Topics this year range from shivering threat to sly comedy: plays about families, love, crimes, artificial intelligence, scams, drones, ageing, gangsters: all of life.

There's speed-awareness and speed-dating, smartphone-flirting and, in Guy Newsham's play in Pod 6, the funniest launch into space you'll ever see. Newsham is Canadian, and remarkably knowledgeable about blast-off protocols. 

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Cybersex' in Pod 7'Cybersex' in Pod 7 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

In Pod 2, just up the road where Suffolk New College becomes The Apollo, "Bed Head" is a  beautifully off-the-wall imagining in which a young man gets trapped inside a girl's imagination about him.

In the same set Hattie Chapman becomes a modern take on Eve in Genesis, a gangster in leopard-print and, most strikingly an grumpy, aged Welsh grandmother who is being headhunted by a smooth American as a quarterback in his American football team. 

East Anglian Daily Times: 'The Lolita Boy' in Pod 3'The Lolita Boy' in Pod 3 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

Watching his pitch, absurd as it is, I kept thinking about every USA big-talker who has taken  over dazzled British companies and changed them.

No idea whether WIlliam Patterson wrote it as a parable, but that's the pleasure of theatre, it pushes your head outside the box.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Eleven fifty Six' in Pod 6'Eleven fifty Six' in Pod 6 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

Chris Larner, playing her son in that one, was only five minutes earlier doing an arresting, tenderly moving monologue by Gary Ogin in which he explains a man's OCD and army career while skilfully putting on full make-up and costume as a clown.   

Indeed apart from the crazy diversity of plays and themes, INK is also a rare chance to watch tiny masterclasses in acting.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Jus' Sayin'' in Pod 1'Jus' Sayin'' in Pod 1 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

Four or five plays within an hour can vary from dark themes to dementia or absurd comedy.

I particularly enjoyed Joe McArdle in Pod 6, moving between a crisp NASA spaceship commander, tough Scottish mental nurse and overconfident middle-manager, while Charlotte Parry moves from lovesick co-pilot to doctor to outraged wife brandishing muffins.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Two Men and a Box' in Pod 2'Two Men and a Box' in Pod 2 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

There are a few star guest writers, and Pat Whymark of Common Ground has a commissioned full-scale play about addiction and sexting, which will go round schools like INK's tour last year about County Lines.

Some authors have had fringe or radio work before, but many are first-timers seeing their ideas come to life.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Colorado' in Pod 5'Colorado' in Pod 5 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

So it's a feast of imagination serious and quirky, emotional and oddball, set from Bungay to Bosnia and painful cocktail parties to NASA. 

One of this year's innovations is a brand-new partnership with the University of East Anglia, which runs an MA in script writing.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Little Red Riding Hoodie' in Pod 1'Little Red Riding Hoodie' in Pod 1 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

Five of the students' plays were chosen, and three of the five cast in "Pod 7" are students. 

Those, I must say, have absolutely nailed an ability to play teenagers at their most endearingly  annoying (top wriggling from Theresa Jane Knight as a lovestruck girl gazing at a lad's window, and brilliant gawkiness from the lads).

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Fudge' in Pod 7'Fudge' in Pod 7 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)

The writers' topics range from school-bus dating to a Filipino fisherman's life and perils, and finally explode in a chaotically grumpy family seaside scene (all too recognizable round here). 

That one made me reckon that in young Grace Bartle we are nurturing the next Alan Ayckbourn. 

So we should be. INK is doing its bit.

East Anglian Daily Times: 'Here's looking at Euclid' in Pod 2'Here's looking at Euclid' in Pod 2 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)East Anglian Daily Times: 'Enough' in Pod 2'Enough' in Pod 2 (Image: Origin8Photography.com)