New talent swept up by the HighTide

HighTide has become an important addition not only to Suffolk's cultural calendar but also the country's.

Andrew Clarke

HighTide has become an important addition not only to Suffolk's cultural calendar but also the country's. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to artistic director Sam Hodges about this critically acclaimed event.

In three short years Suffolk has become home to one of the country's most important festivals which seeks to launch new talent on the British theatre scene. The HighTide Festival, based in Halesworth, is designed to provide, not only a platform for new writing, but also to allow Britain's brightest new talent to rub shoulders with some of the theatre world's greatest names in a dazzling fortnight of performances, events, readings and film screenings.

Last year the festival had two big hits I Caught Crabs in Walberswick and Stovepipe which went on to attract large audiences in Edinburgh and London. The event allowed audiences and the young playwrights behind these hits to meet and to quiz such theatrical heavyweights as Sir Tom Stoppard and the broadcaster Mark Lawson.


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This year's HighTide Festival plans to be even more ambitious with three brand new plays being premiered during the fortnight alongside appearances by the award-winning playwright David Hare, Shakespeare In Love director John Madden and leading theatre critic Michael Billington.

There will be a Faber playwrights season featuring retrospectives for Alan Bennett, John Osborne and David Hare, an evening of stand-up comedy, the poetry of Samuel Beckett and an examination of British cinema during the last three decades.

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The HighTide Festival is the brainchild of Sam Hodges and Steven Jon Atkinson who have roots in the county. Speaking from his London office, Sam said he was delighted, if a little taken aback, by the speed at which the festival had developed.

“The fact that Stovepipe, one of the plays we premiered last year, has transferred into London as co-production between ourselves, the National Theatre and the Bush Theatre, has done a lot to raise our profile. Hopefully it means that there is now an acceptance that we will open the work in Suffolk before transferring them to larger venues in London.”

The Festival is spreading its wings this year and is expanding out from the Cut Theatre in Halesworth to include some events at Aldeburgh Music's new studio facilities at the Snape Maltings.

“The last three months have been rather hectic because we have been putting the finishing touches to this year's festival while opening Stovepipe in London. We staged it in the gallery space upstairs in The Cut last year - it's a small gallery space and for the London run we have managed to expand it to fill a theatre space which is at least six or seven times bigger. It's been an interesting journey and hopefully one we can repeat this year.”

He said that the cornerstone of the festival remains the unveiling of three new plays by young playwrights which have been worked on with experienced directors and cast with largely young, fresh talent. “We have had a lot more interest this year in terms of people from the industry wanting to come along and see what we have to offer. We are excited because it's always been our ambition to be the launching point for new work. It's important that it has a life away from the Festival. It's developed and launched at HighTide but it then goes on and has a life elsewhere as Stovepipe and I Caught Crabs at Walberswick did.”

Sam said: “The whole sense of Suffolk coming to London is captured in the title of the play, so it was lovely that it was the first play to really break out and win a much bigger audience. It is important that there is that link between the Suffolk Festival and the plays opening in London because both sides of the equation feed the development of new work for future festivals - and it is important that the work is of the highest possible standard.”

He said that as the Festival becomes even more deeply rooted in Halesworth, he would love to move more of the companies work to Suffolk because it allows writers to develop their work, thoughtfully, away from the distractions and the pressures of London. “Since last year we have developed much more of a relationship with Aldeburgh Music and we now run a series of artistic residencies throughout the year and the idea behind that is we spend a week to ten days in Snape with a new writer, a director and a group of actors and Aldeburgh Music supply a composer and we spend that time workshopping a new play - developing it behind closed doors and really looking at the relationship between music and text and how it affects the performance of the play and how the audience responds to a piece.

“It's great getting a composer involved in the rehearsal process and we want to build on that, so we are doing two or three of those residencies a year. It's great that these events will later feed new work into the festival but also it's great just to come to Suffolk and take advantage of the facilities here, enjoy the space and tap into the creative resources we have in the county.

“It's not just a case of being away from the hectic day to day grind of London, but Suffolk has this beautiful, inspirational quality which allows you to just immerse yourself in the work and allows you to perhaps try something new.”

He said that they are currently developing a HighTide schools programme, which should launch in October, which will allow GCSE and A Level drama students from Suffolk schools to witness one of the Snape residencies and examine the development of a new play. They have the opportunity to both observe and take part in the creative process.

“It's all about putting Suffolk at the heart of what we do. We don't want to be seen as a group of people from London coming in and staging a festival once a year. We all have roots here and we want to make HighTide part of the county throughout the year.”

He said that as the Festival has evolved they have wanted to expand their audience reach by utilising different venues and different performance styles. “Stovepipe is the proof that this different type of show does capture the audience imagination because it wasn't staged in a traditional theatre, in the traditional manner. It was a promenade show in a gallery space and it really connected with audiences firstly at the Cut and now in London.”

He said that it was their dearest wish that audiences from both the locality and from around the country mixed at the event. “It's great that people come here and enjoy the theatre and what Suffolk has to offer but it's equally important that Suffolk audiences feel that is their event too. They should claim ownership and that way Suffolk becomes the hub for new writing.”

The HighTide Festival celebrates its third anniversary with three world premieres:

Fixer, by Lydia Adetunji, runs from April 27 until May 10 in The Gallery, The Cut. Set in Northern Nigeria, against a backdrop of oil pipelines, armed rebels and a multi-national oil company, Lydia Adetunji's professional debut, is about the difficulty of knowing what the right thing is - and how to do it even if you know. Fresh, engaged and caustically funny, Lydia is being touted as a major new voice in British drama.

Guardians, by Lucy Caldwell, runs from April 29 until May 10 in The Studio, The Cut. In Guardians, Caldwell explores what happens when our expectations come up against reality. It follows the story of bright twenty-somethings Molly and Conor, married for a year, and have been forced to relocate to Conor's family-home in Belfast. Guardians is directed by Natalie Abrahami, joint artistic director of London's The Gate Theatre.

Muhmah by Jesse Weaver, runs from May 1 until May 10 in The Main House, The Cut. Muhmah is the startling d�but of Jesse Weaver; a hilarious, hideous and richly original piece of American Gothic that reveals that the devil you know can be worse than the devil you don't. Set at Halloween on Cape Cod, it tells the story of Michael and Selene twins who live with their mother. They are turning 30, and it's a nasty world outside. Muhmah marks artistic director Steven Jon Atkinson's first HighTide Festival production.

Other Festival highliughts include One Evening, directed by Katie Mitchell, on Friday May 1 at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. RSC and National Theatre director Katie Mitchell directs a fully staged performance of Samuel Beckett's poetry with Schubert's song cycle, Winterreise. Winterreise will be performed by Mark Padmore in a new English translation by Whitbread-wining poet, Michael Symmons Roberts.

On Saturday May 2 at The Studio, at The Cut, Britain's longest-serving theatre critic, Michael Billington will be looking back at fifty years of British theatre, using excerpts from his book State of the Nation.

This is followed by the Faber Playwrights Season from May 2 until May 10 which will present an overview of the works of several playwrights published by Faber, selected and produced by HighTide and performed by casts of leading actors. The series is launched with retrospectives on Alan Bennett, Tom Stopard, Harold Pinter, John Osborne and David Hare.

David Hare will be taking to the stage on Sunday May 10 to perform a one-off double bill of his latest plays Berlin and Wall. Directed by award-winning director Stephen Daldry, Hare describes a place where a famous wall has come down (Berlin); then visits a place where a wall is going up (Israel/Palestine border).

Meanwhile on May 9 screenwriters Charles Sturridge And Derek Granger will be discussing the adapting on classic novel for the screen in Brideshead Revisited: From Page to Screen. The film theme continues on May 10 with a screening of 90's Oscar-winner Shakespeare in Love, which will be followed by an audience with director John Madden who will be interviewed on his career, and in particular his recollections of making this much-loved British classic.

The HighTide Festival runs at The Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk, and the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, from Monday April 27- Sunday May 10. Tickets and further information can be obtained on www.hightide.org.uk

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