HighTide finds a new home in Aldeburgh and takes theatre to the seaside

Steven Elder as Stefano and Louise Mai Newberry as Denis in Lampedusa at the Hightide Festival in Al

Steven Elder as Stefano and Louise Mai Newberry as Denis in Lampedusa at the Hightide Festival in Aldeburgh - Credit: �Nobby Clark Photographer

HighTide, Suffolk’s theatre festival, is taking over Aldeburgh this year. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke caught up with artistic director Steven Atkinson to talk about this year’s line-up and the chance to see theatre on the beach

Sarah Ridgeway as Her and Nick Sidi as Him at the HighTide Festival Aldeburgh

Sarah Ridgeway as Her and Nick Sidi as Him at the HighTide Festival Aldeburgh - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

Suffolk’s HighTide theatre festival has a new home. It’s upped sticks and moved to the seaside and set up camp in Aldeburgh.

Celebrating its ninth year, HighTide, which champions new plays and new writing, is creating a passport to a new theatrical experience by staging performances on the beach and at nine venues in the town.

The team, led by artistic director and co-founder Steven Atkinson, has created a passport stamp that urges theatregoers to “Be Adventurous”.

Steven said Aldeburgh has taken the festival to its heart and has been very generous with its spaces, allowing them to take over large areas of the town for the duration of the 10-day event.

So Here We Are by Luke Norris at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh. left to right: Katharine Williams
Kir

So Here We Are by Luke Norris at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh. left to right: Katharine Williams Kirsty / Jade Anouka Frankie / Daniel Kendrick Dan / Ciaran Owens Smudge / Dorian Jerome Simpson Pugh / Mark Weinman Pidge / Sam Melvin - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer


You may also want to watch:


This year’s festival is aiming to deliver a much more diverse programme, because it has room to offer a wide variety of different types of live performance. In addition to the four HighTide new plays, including three world premieres, there will be a vast array of new work from visiting companies, music events and stand-up comedy from performers such as Shappi Khorsandi. The festival’s Face to Face programme, which allows audiences to probe the minds of a variety of well-known theatre-makers, also moves up a gear, with question and answer sessions with Christopher Eccleston, Vanessa Redgrave, Sir Richard Eyre and Meera Syal. These interview events will be hosted by Libby Purves and Kate Mosse. Vanessa Redgrave will also be staging a series of readings at the festival.

Steven said: “HighTide’s mission is to discover and champion emerging playwrights and produce new and original plays. What we did last year – and was very successful, so we’re doing it again this year – was to open one of our featured new plays ahead of the festival.

Most Read

“What we are trying to do is promote exciting new work but you also want to let people know that it is good – that we are promoting quality drama – and that’s difficult with new work because people obviously don’t know anything about it.

“So what we have decided to do is open a play before the festival, get people along to see it and review it, and then open the rest of the plays in Aldeburgh.

Alison O''Donnell as Brenda and JackTarlton as Robert
in Brenda at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh

Alison O''Donnell as Brenda and JackTarlton as Robert in Brenda at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

“We were lucky this year to have a play called Lampedusa, which premiered at the Soho Theatre and is about immigration in Britain and the dangers that many migrants face crossing the Mediterranean.

“It had some great reviews and it was very successful at Soho, so hopefully it arrives at HighTide with a good reputation and people can trust the integrity and quality of the work, and this sense of trust will extend to the other plays which are yet to be reviewed.”

This year’s festival curtain rises with the premiere of So Here We Are, a play by playwright and actor Luke Norris.

It takes a touching and compassionate look at young lives cut short and childhood friendships which then come under strain in adult life. It will be directed by Steven Atkinson.

So Here We Are by Luke Norris at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh. left to right: Katharine Williams
Kir

So Here We Are by Luke Norris at HighTide Festival Aldeburgh. left to right: Katharine Williams Kirsty / Jade Anouka Frankie / Daniel Kendrick Dan / Ciaran Owens Smudge / Dorian Jerome Simpson Pugh / Mark Weinman Pidge / Sam Melvin - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

This will be followed by a provocative and compelling new play by E V Crowe, Brenda, which examines life in today’s world. Brenda feels she’s not a real person – that she needs help. The story of life in today’s society is executed through unconventional means and blurs the lines between theatre and reality. This groundbreaking play brings together two of the UK’s most exciting young theatre makers – writer Crowe and director Caitlin McLeod, both of whom have worked for the Royal Court, the RSC and the National Theatre.

Also premiering is Harrogate, by award-winning playwright Al Smith. This tender exploration of a marriage laid bare and a father struggling to confront his obsessions without destroying his family will be directed by the multi-award-winning theatre director Richard Twyman.

“Trust is key when you are running a festival which is all about new work. Your audience have to trust you and I think after eight years we have developed a reputation for presenting good work.

“The reason why people want to premiere their work at HighTide is because we have developed an enthusiastic, loyal audience who relish seeing new work first. We get great feedback from local audiences who are enthused by what we are doing. They recognise that there’s something special about seeing a new play before anyone else.”

Steven said the only thing that has changed over the past nine years is that the average audience has risen from 50 people per performance in 2007 to an audience of thousands over the festival in recent years. “As the audience grows, more people will learn about the thrill of seeing an artist or a piece of work at the start of its life.

“Part of the excitement at a festival like HighTide is the sense of being witness to risk-taking. A festival can protect the writer and the fledgling new work and present it to an understanding audience who can help shape it before it goes out into the world. One of the things that we are very proud of at HighTide is that works that we have nurtured here in Suffolk have always had a life beyond the festival.”

All the plays in the 2015 programme are moving on to other venues in major cities after HighTide.

Community plays a huge role in the festival and Steven will make sure the festival becomes part of the fabric of the town. “We have got 11 venues across Aldeburgh this year and include the Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, the Aldeburgh Cinema, the Pumphouse, Aldeburgh Parish Church Hall and a purpose-built HighTide dome on Aldeburgh beach in front of the White Lion. This year there will also be music and barbecues on the beach, as well as theatre.

“One of the great changes this year is that you will be able to walk around Aldeburgh and see lots of different things happening in lots of different places.

“When the idea of moving to Aldeburgh was first mooted we thought it would be really fun to go back to that original premise that Britten and Pears had of creating a festival in the town that brought together the whole community and showcased lots of different artistic projects. When we were in Halesworth we worked, largely, in just the one building: The Cut. It’s great to be able to spread our wings and take the festival out into the town now we have moved to Aldeburgh. That’s one of the things we are most excited about.”

Community also means working with young people to enable the next generation of theatregoers to discover the joys of live performance. In addition to 500 free tickets being made available to schools and young people, there will be a wide range of workshops and HighTide’s Writer and Performer Academy Showcase, presented in collaboration with Chichester Festival Theatre.

Steven said that in addition to the fully-staged plays a number of new plays will receive rehearsed readings and the festival will play host to a number of visiting companies, including Baz Productions, Britten Pears Foundation, Eastern Angles, Hunt and Darton, Mig Kimpton, Morgan and West and Aldeburgh’s own Wonderful Beast, who will be presenting The Return of the Wildman.

Aldeburgh Cinema will be contributing to the festival atmosphere when it plays host to a series of stand-up comedy performances on the Friday and Saturday evenings during the festival. Programmed by the Soho Theatre, the performers include Nish Kumar, Sam Simmons, John Kearns and Shappi Khorsandi.

Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington will be presenting a guide to the 101 Greatest Plays: From Antiquity to the Present Day. Based on his book, he explains the cultural context and the reasons for his choices.

Steven Atkinson said HighTide will harness some of the energy that Aldeburgh gave to the Aldeburgh Festival during its early years. “This year’s HighTide Festival is all about new beginnings. New stories, playwrights, and ways of creating theatre. And we have a new home for the festival in Aldeburgh. Theatre can now be added to an unparalleled annual line-up of festivals in every artistic discipline, which makes Aldeburgh world famous.

“We are very keen to make this a festival which appeals to people of all ages. We want people of all ages to see it, enjoy the experience and come back.”

This year’s HighTide festival runs from September 10-20.

Steven Atkinson’s Pick of the festival

“It’s always difficult to come up with a mix of quality and experimentation. All the plays are very different. The plays have to be about something – about the world we live in or wonderful character dramas. Audiences don’t want to feel that they have wasted their time on something trivial. So we always after something that’s strong.

“The other thing we try to do is try and help an artist’s career. Often you have that until a writer as a reputation many people can’t afford to take a risk on their work. So the whole point of the festival is to give good writers a big production at HighTide and then they’re off and running. This year among the very good plays we have is So Here We Are. It’s a big play about secrets. I don’t want to give anything away but it’s a play about what can happen when nothing happens. Frankie’s dead but no-one is quite sure why. That’s all I can say except that It’s going to have a long successful life and I think it will be great for people to see it at the very beginning of its life,

“Then on top of that I think the Big Beach Sing and Barbecue is going to be great. It’s going to be on September 13 and to be on the beach listening to some great music and having a barbecue is going to something special.

“Finally people should come and see our dome. It’s a unique construct. It’s just going to be there for the duration of the festival. It’s going to be a big white dome with a theatre inside and it’s hosting Lampedusa which is superb and is the big political play of the year. It’s very relevant dealing with the migrant situation in the Med. Sadly, it will remain topical for some time to come. It is a very high quality experience so grab a chance to see some amazing travelling theatre. It’s a one-off.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter