THE organisers of this year’s Henley Drama Festival have had so many applicants that they have had to add an
THE organisers of this year’s Henley Drama Festival have had so many applicants that they have had to add an extra day.
The “original” festival of Henley, now in its 42nd year, will run for six nights instead of the usual five when it opens on May 6 at the Kenton Theatre.
This year, 16 groups will battle it out for the coveted top prizes as they perform their one-act plays before an adjudicator from the Guild of Drama.
Pauline Smith, festival secretary, said: “Last year the adjudicator said that in many ways we are bucking the trend. Many of these festivals have folded, especially in the south-east, but while we usually do five days, this year we are doing six.
“The point of the festival is to get across to people how wonderful a live play is. Nowadays the attention span is so short it’s lovely to be able to go somewhere and really concentrate on a play, and come away feeling you have been entertained.”
Jeni Wood, who organises the festival’s marketing, added that the intention of the festival since its inception is to encourage as many people as possible to get up on stage.
She said: “Our aim is to get any group along to have a go, and last year we were trying to get more people who are special needs. So we were thrilled when a group from Slough called Friendly Bombs took part. They were special needs adults and as they couldn’t learn the script as well, they had a narrator and also used improvisation techniques. At the end of their performance there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and the adjudicator was very impressed.
“It just shows that anyone can do it.”
This year there will be 16 one-act plays spread over the six nights. Regular local groups taking part include the Henley Players, who will perform an Alan Bennett play Say Something Happened and HAODS with Seth Kramer’s World Without Memory.
Other entries from further afield include two original plays from Anthony Deacon by the Forum Players — who make their début at the festival — and the Young Theatre from Beaconsfield who are putting on George MacEwan Green’s No Picnic.
Under the rules of the festival, the plays must be between 20 and 50 minutes long, and each night the adjudicator will give feedback to the cast. The festival arranges the participating groups into five categories — Open category, All Women, Senior Youth, Junior Youth, and Best Original Play. On the final night, prizes will be awarded and trophies distributed in a number of classes, including best overall play, best actor and best actress.
The adjudicator also issues his or her own award, the Diamond Shield, for what he or she considers the magic moment of the week.
Mrs Wood said: “People should come along and watch — it’s an evening of such varied plays, it’s quite exciting waiting for the next one coming up. And it’s such good value. Everybody wants to win, so that’s why the standard is so high. I’ve never seen a bad play at the festival. You can hoot with laughter or just sit and enjoy any one evening. Some plays are so strong and some are so funny.”
She added that in previous years there had been moving and terrifying plays about the Holocaust alongside comedies where all the actors were dressed up as dogs.
“It’s live theatre, and that’s what keeps us all involved,” she said.
* The Henley Drama Festival runs from Monday to Saturday, May 6 to 11. Tickets £8/£6. Box office (01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk