THE organisers of this year’s Henley Drama Festival are pulling out all the stops to win back
THE organisers of this year’s Henley Drama Festival are pulling out all the stops to win back the crowds — by staging their first ever gala evening to showcase the best performers.
Now in its 45th year, the festival runs from Tuesday, May 3, to Saturday, May 7, at the Kenton Theatre.
For those unfamiliar with the format, the festival is competitive, with a variety of different classes and awards aimed at giving amateur theatre companies the chance to test themselves against each other — and receive feedback from a professional drama adjudicator.
Each play runs to one act only and must last no longer than 50 minutes, enabling up to three to be performed each night.
A full list of plays is below, but the opening night and the gala evening will each feature two productions, with three being performed on each of the other nights, making a total of 11 productions in the space of a week.
Because there is only one adjudicator, the plays will run one after the other in the Kenton’s 234-seater auditorium, with an expected 10- to 15-minute gap between them.
Festival committee members Jeni Wood and Chris Harris say the rules have been relaxed slightly this year to allow two-handers to be included.
Jeni said: “The plays are all one act and they should be more than two performers but it’s increasingly difficult to get a one-act play for more than two performers, so I think we’ve accepted those now, haven’t we? We’ve thought we’ve got to accept them because it’s putting people off performing.”
Locally based companies taking part include Stageworks, the Henley Players and Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (HAODS).
Jeni added: “There is a kind of circuit of these drama festivals and they’re all competitive. What the drama groups do is use the same play and the same actors and go to all of them.”
Festivals coming up later this summer include the ODN Drama Festival in Abingdon from June 6 to 11, followed by the Wallingford Drama Festival from June 13 to 17.
Jeni continued: “That’s where the adjudicator really comes into their own because they are always very, very clear — sometimes very succinct — but the actors and certainly the producers and directors should take that criticism and use it as a positive and then go on to the next festival putting that right.”
As the fourth oldest working theatre in the country, Jeni said the Kenton had continued to attract performers down the years. “It’s terrific, and for some amateurs it’s the only time they get to go on a theatre stage. That’s the beauty of it, you see?”
Audience numbers have declined somewhat in recent years, but that is something the organisers are determined to rectify.
Jeni, who is the committee treasurer, says: “It used to be packed and people used to come and stay in Henley for the week so they could come every night.
“And they used to keep a score — there used to be a scorecard given to them and they used to fill it in.
“Or they probably made their own up, but they would score the performances and if they didn’t agree with the adjudicator...”
“...they would find them in the bar afterwards and have a word,” jokes Chris.
“Unfortunately,” continues Jeni, “I don’t think many people come and do that now. The audience would usually be people like me — I would go, because I know it’s such a good night — and people who know the author and the families and friends of whoever’s performing.”
Saturday’s gala evening, then, is part of an effort by the organisers to give the festival a more exciting conclusion — one they hope will engage the audience just as much as the performers.
Says Jeni: “Saturday night is now the biggie because this is the gala night and we’ve never done it before, so this is absolutely new — we don’t know how it’s going to be received.
“We hope we’re not going to get egg on our face by having nobody there, but all the people who’ve been involved in the festival should come because they’ll need to know what they’ve won!”
While Saturday will see the winners of the various classes and awards revealed, two productions will also be invited back to close the festival.
A spokesman for the festival said: “These may include the overall winner of this year’s festival, or may have been chosen partly to give a balanced evening’s entertainment, but in any event will be productions which have impressed her.”
Productions taking part in the festival can choose from among five classes to enter — depending on eligibility. These are: best original play, open, all women, senior youth (under 19) and junior youth (under 15).
Awards include best stage presentation, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor/actress, adjudicator’s choice (all classes) and magic moment (all classes).
This year’s adjudicator is Louise Manders. A member of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators, Louise has acted on stage, television and film and is an experienced theatre director, having been the artistic director of the Phoenix Youth Theatre in Southend, Essex, for many years.
Tickets for Tuesday to Friday are priced £8. Entry to Saturday’s gala night is just £5, but holders of tickets from performances earlier in the week will be admitted free of charge. A “four for three” ticket offer covering Tuesday to Friday is also available, priced £24.
Tickets can be booked in advance by calling the Kenton box office on (01491) 575698 or visiting the theatre’s website at www.kentontheatre.co.uk
List of plays
TUESDAY, MAY 3
Ghosts of Bedlam
by Arthur Â Aldrich (Scene Stealers Shinfield Theatre)
Too Long an Autumn
by Jimmie Chinn (Sinodun Players, Â Wallingford)
WEDNESDAY, MAY 4
The Beauty Manifesto
by Nell Â Leyshon (Stageworks, Henley)
by Stephen Bean (Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society)
by Thomas Maddren (Shared Intent Theatre, Â Beaconsfield)
THURSDAY, MAY 5
The Famous Victories of Henry V
by Anonymous (Friendly Bombs Theatre Company, Slough)
Fragile by Mark Padbury, Tasha Moar and Daisy Norton (Didcot Phoenix Drama Group)
by Richard James (Maidenhead Drama Guild)
FRIDAY, MAY 6
by Lanford Wilson (The Young Theatre 1, Beaconsfield)
The Shadow of the Giants
by Mark Oldknow (The Young Theatre 2, Beaconsfield)
Mystic Mandy and Her Little People
by Rognvald Gunn (Henley Players)
SATURDAY, MAY 7
NOTE: Weekday shows start at 7.30pm. Saturday’s gala night starts at the slightly earlier time of 7pm.