Halesworth’s Ink Festival puts Richard Curtis and Esther Freud ‘on the road’

Rehearsals for the Ink Festival. Picture: SOPHIE LE ROUX

Rehearsals for the Ink Festival. Picture: SOPHIE LE ROUX - Credit: Archant

In less than five years the Ink Festival has established itself as a vital platform for new theatrical writing. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to artistic director Julia Sowerbutts about how the festival has developed

Rehearsals for the Ink Festival with Ed Jones and Janine Leigh in Spooks by Blake Morrison. Photo: S

Rehearsals for the Ink Festival with Ed Jones and Janine Leigh in Spooks by Blake Morrison. Photo: Sophie le Roux - Credit: Archant

The Ink Festival, East Anglia’s latest new writing festival, has gone from a wistful ‘what if?’ pipedream to a fully fledged, ambitious success story.

Based at the Halesworth Cut, the Ink Festival has gathered together dozens of actors and writers, both experienced old hands and youthful first-timers, to stage a weekend of exciting, accessible, entertaining new theatre.

Now in its fourth year, Julia Sowerbutts, the festival’s artistic director, is thrilled with the prospect of Ink going out on the road, showcasing an evening of new work by five of the county’s leading dramatists and the launch of a Saturday children’s programme called The Inklings.

Ink Festival artistic director Julia Sowerbutts in rehearsals with Huw Brentnall. Photo: Sophie le R

Ink Festival artistic director Julia Sowerbutts in rehearsals with Huw Brentnall. Photo: Sophie le Roux - Credit: Archant

She says that these new additions to the event are visible indications of the growth and the support that the Ink Festival has gained from the people of the region.

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“The Ink Festival is all about promoting talent from across East Anglia. It’s about giving a voice to people who live and work outside London. It’s about bringing theatre-makers and audiences together to share and experience lots of high quality new work.

“We established the INK Festival so we could showcase the best new, short scripts by East Anglia’s brightest talents. We wanted to blend established writers with brand new voices. We also wanted to work in a different format so we decided to focus on short plays which offers writers a whole new way of working. We also embraced writing for radio, which is different skill again, and as far as I am aware we are the only festival that offers opportunities to write radio scripts.”

Rehearsals for the Ink Festival short play Open/Shut by Steve Waters with Janine Leigh. Photo: Sophi

Rehearsals for the Ink Festival short play Open/Shut by Steve Waters with Janine Leigh. Photo: Sophie le Roux - Credit: Archant

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This year the Ink Festival is staging performances of 27 short plays, both for stage and radio, a musical, film screenings, performance poetry, workshops, as well as a number of celebrity talks which will take audiences ‘behind the scenes’ on The Archers and The South Bank Show.

“It’s a wonderfully immersive way to see and take part in new, innovative work. You can just get yourself a pass and just lose yourself in the weekend, going from event to event, show to show.”

This year’s Festival has attracted some big names.

Five well known East Anglian writers have each written a five-minute script around a common theme: the image of a suitcase. Richard Curtis, Libby Purves, Blake Morrison, Steve Waters and Esther Freud are The Famous 5 who have taken on the challenge. Their work will also form the nucleus of the new Ink on the Road tour.

Richard Curtis’ micro-play Another Suitcase In Another Hall is about an arrogant theatre director who obsessively fusses over props during rehearsals for a production of Evita. Libby Purves play, entitled Attic, in which two sisters encounter an unexpected memory of their father stored in a suitcase left in the attic. Esther Freud will be telling the story of how an unexpected phone call offers hope to a woman who has spent her adult life waiting for a future in Life on the List.

Steve Waters offers an enigmatic playlet called Open/Shut in which two border control officers have an epiphany when they unzip a suitcase while Blake Morrison delivers a short play called Spooks which explores what happens when the exchange of two suitcases goes wrong and a spy approaches the wrong person out for a stroll in the park.

Julia Sowerbutts says that the actors and directors for all the plays are drawn from people with East Anglian connections where ever possible. “For the most part they either live here, or were born here, or have family here, so it’s a real celebration of East Anglian talent but we do have to bring in some outside talent just because of the sheer number of people we use. So, we hold auditions both here in Suffolk and in London.”

In addition to the Famous Five short plays, there will be premieres of 11 short plays, which will form the heart of the festival, seven new radio plays, and three plays from writers invited to pen a drama based around the number 147.

Julia said: “The standard and sheer numbers of new scripts have been quite overwhelming. This year the Ink Festival team have received over 200 scripts from which we have selected 27 plays. The plays are performed multiple times over the weekend, by an ensemble cast of around 50 actors, with 13 directors in six venues within The Cut, Halesworth.

The festival has swiftly gained support from people within the theatre and television industry. Tim Bentinck, from the world’s longest running soap, Radio 4’s The Archers, will be directing and discussing his new book, Being David Archer and Other Unusual Ways of Earning a Living.

Suffolk resident Helen Atkinson Wood (The Young Ones, Black Adder and KYTV) will be performing, and directing. She will also be hosting the Archers’ evening and supper with Tim Bentinck.

Gillian Greenwood (Executive Producer South Bank Show) will look back on the highly successful show and show clips from Melvyn Bragg’s interviews with several major British theatre figures from Pinter and Stoppard, to Orton and Tim Rice.

Meanwhile, I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue regular and a third of The Goodies, Tim Brook Taylor will be performing in two radio plays. Suffolk poet Luke Wright will be presenting Performance Poetry with special guests.

For Julia, the real heart of the Ink Festival lies in the phrase: “From ‘pen to performance’. The focus is on helping writers, whatever their age or experience, to give them the opportunity to work with professional actors and directors. Although the Ink Festival is important and provides an annual spotlight on our work, it is only part of what we do.

“This year we have introduced The INKlings, a children’s programme, that provides drama, film, and creative writing courses for young people. Then there’s INK’d Up which offers professional development for aspiring writers and actors to hone their skills through readings, feedback of works in progress, talks and workshops from industry professionals.

“INK Spills helps writers to develop scripts that are premiered at the INK Festival, in order to transfer elsewhere. Previous works have been performed in London, Ipswich, Latitude Festival, Norwich and Cambridge.”

This year they are taking INK on the Road touring the best world premieres from the INK Festival.

The 2018 Tour Dates:

April 11th Headgate Theatre, Colchester

12th Seagull, Lowestoft

13th Garage Theatre, Norwich

14th Wymondham Central Hall

19th John Peel Centre, Stowmarket

20th Brandeston

21st Fisher Theatre, Bungay

22nd The New Wolsey HEG, Ipswich

INK Festival runs from April 7-8 2018, The Cut Arts Centre, Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 8BY

Day pass £15.00 / Weekend pass £25 with concessions for U25s, unwaged and disabled.

Box Office: 01986 872555


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