During the height of the pandemic, Chichester Festival Theatre ran a ten week new writing competition asking for short plays of no more than ten pages which met a weekly brief. They picked a winner each week and from the 300 entries overall chose four of the winners to professionally audio record; these are now available online. As they were from the first four weeks it seemed sensible to listen to them chronologically; it’s not clear if the other six are to follow at any stage. If you’re wondering where “five” comes into it – that’s the number of days writers had to submit their finished scripts.
The brief for week one was: “We’re keeping it simple to start off! There can only be 2 characters, A and B, and B has a secret to tell A. Whether we find the secret out or not is up to you… we all love a cliff-hanger”. The selected winner was Backbone by Louis Turner. A and B are two brothers and there is certainly a big secret which gets circled round for quite a while before it gets revealed (no spoilers here). There’s some cleverly convoluted dialogue part Pinter, part Stoppard as the two men joust for verbal supremacy. As it progresses the play shifts through the gears until the clever twist towards the end. This intelligent little piece packs in a lot in its under ten minutes running time and Henry Pettigrew and Ashley Zhangazha are entirely convincing as the protagonists who gradually ramp up the sense of menace. See if you can guess the true nature of Pamela before the denouement.
The winner of week two is an even shorter play called Rockpool by Alexander Wiseman, drawn from the brief: “Choose your favourite space in the entire world. It could be the beach, a family holiday home, or it could be completely made up and imaginary… maybe in a hot air balloon? This is where this week’s play is set”. Wiseman’s choice is a rocky beach in Cornwall at the end of the day while the tide is out and the hollows on the shore are filled with water. A young man has travelled there purposely to contemplate a particular event of the past and hopefully find some solace. He encounters a woman who partly eases his mind while creating a sense of mystery. The characters are played by Adam Buchanan and Nicola Sloane. I really wanted this playlet to go on as it finished on an unresolved question; one that popped into my mind seconds before it was articulated but sadly remains unanswered.
Signs Of Life, the week three winner takes a well known story and speculates on its origins. It follows the brief: “One of your characters must be a historical figure. They could be well known, or someone whose story’s been forgotten over time. The rest is up to you – fact or fiction?” Writer Hannah Crouch has fixed on the creation of Frankenstein; the story of its genesis may be as well known as that of the novel itself, but this version offers a new twist. For such a short piece it probably has too many scenes and too many characters. It is also far too reliant on narration which keeps breaking in to offer explanation. Grace Molony and Olivia Dickens as older and younger versions of Mary Shelly are supported by Ashley Zhangazha, Dickon Gough and Keir Charles. I felt this piece needed further refinement and development.
The final play is Blue Moon by David Kinder which brings us back to the contemporary world. The brief was: “ ‘Dancing in the moonlight’ is your starting point. Take it as you will, it could be romance, intrigue or anything in between!” Journalist Simon has crashed his way into a party political conference reception and is confronted by Tory politician Anushka. She wants him to leave but he knows a secret about a possible financial scandal and they have some past history. There’s plenty of conflict here and there is some interesting dialogue which sets out the opposing positions. There is also room for future further development with the clash of ideological positions. Lucy Briers and Keir Charles make for an articulate and contrastingly believable couple.
Directors Hannah Hogg and Dale Rooks have done a good job in creating different settings and soundscapes for these short plays and, given the time restrictions for composition and playing time, the various writers have turned out some impressive pieces. A full list of the winning entries is on the CFT website (see below) and it is to be hoped that at least some of them will form the basis of longer plays in the future. My personal winner is Backbone, so congratulations to Louis Turner. Sorry there’s no prize but here’s a picture of my cat; he’s called Oscar so at least you can legitimately say you’ve won one.
Five Day Play can be accessed via the CFT website. Click here
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