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24:7 Theatre Festival

Nicola Mostyn ponders on whether last week’s guilt-free theatre in the city was worthwhile

Published on July 30th 2007.

24:7 Theatre Festival

I think I almost missed the point of 24:7. As we trundled along to catch one of the twenty one plays being performed at this week long festival, I wondered aloud to my companion: “Perhaps they should extend the festival to two weeks, you know, give people a chance to catch more plays?”

No matter how great the production the usual duration of a play requires a Herculean commitment after a hard day’s work whilst a sixty minute story is a far more appealing proposition.

“No!” came the emphatic response. “A week is perfect.” The reasoning? That there are so many festivals happening in Manchester that you pretty much always feel guilty for not going to see more stuff. Having a short festival, he explained, means you see what you can and are blameless for not catching more because it’s over so soon. Having suffered my fair share of festival-guilt over the years, I could only agree. So, week long blink-and-you’ll miss ‘em festivals = fab idea. I stand corrected.

There are other things that this festival, now in its fourth year, gets right. Such as continuing its tradition of presenting new plays in non-theatre venues. This year’s crop of new productions – 105 of them - were performed in three spaces in The Printworks’, Pure Space bar and in a suite in the Midland Hotel. By taking the action out of the traditional locations 24:7 leapfrog the barriers often associated with accessing theatre – too old, too stuffy, too insular – by placing it in accessible areas which the audience associate with enjoyment and fun. Milling around the lower bar area awaiting entry to the three separate venues in Pure Space, the atmosphere was laid back and enthusiastic and the crowd mixed – just like the Edinburgh festival.

They have also been canny in avoiding another off-putting aspect of watching theatre by allowing the productions a running time of sixty minutes or less. Not only is this ideal for new writers, it goes down much better with an audience, too. No matter how great the production the usual duration of a play requires a Herculean commitment after a hard day’s work whilst a sixty minute story is a far more appealing proposition. This is, I think, less to do with our shrinking attention spans and more to do with the fact that it’s easier to take a risk on something when it’s only going to demand an hour of your time, maximum.

So, top marks for organisation and atmosphere – but what of the plays? Of the four I caught, the first was Eating Out, written by Ross Andrews, a sharply observed social comedy featuring a male nurse and an arrogant marketing man with nothing in common but their girlfriends’ mutual friendship. Well acted, with a deft script and some fine comedic moments, it offered some satisfying observations on relationships, social responsibility and the crap conversations you’re forced to have at dinner parties and would have been as suited to TV as to the stage.

Next up was Elizabeth Baines’ The Processing Room in which three women in limbo try to come to terms with their death. Playing creatively with the idea of the different stages of life and death, the play raised some interesting ideas and also employed a clever use of movement to emphasise and enliven what could have been a very static waiting-room scenario.

Next up was Cake. Well, next up was supposed to be Boots but apparently one of the actors was missing and they were running late so I swapped my ticket. I’d like to say that I’m glad I did because I caught the next Mark Ravenhill but…well, I didn’t. Cake, by Mike Heath, was a old fashioned, dealing with a potentially rich subject matter- a young boy coming out to his parents – in a farcical style (equipped with an awful jingle), like the sit-com in Extras but without the irony.

By now I was hungry for something a little experimental and, though the last play I caught, Concrete Ribbons by Lesa Dryburgh and Michael Trainor wasn’t exactly that, it was the most ambitious of the plays I saw. Telling of a depressed wife and her indolent lollipop man husband, Concrete Ribbons made excellent use of a radio announcer to break up this two-hander, held plenty of witty quips in its play-referencing plot and lured the audience, sheep-like, to a shocking, well handled denouement. Good stuff.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival and I won’t be offended if they don’t take up my suggestion of extending it. They seem to know what they’re doing and, well, 24:14 hasn’t got quite the same ring to it.


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