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24:7 Theatre Festival

Sarah Tierney talks to the director of a festival that takes the drama out of going to the theatre

Published on July 14th 2009.

24:7 Theatre Festival

If you've ever sat in a theatre surreptitiously checking your watch, you'll appreciate the thinking behind 24:7 Theatre Festival. All the plays are short: less than an hour long. You can bring drinks in with you. And it's a casual, relaxed atmosphere, thanks to the use of non-theatre venues like nightclubs and hotels.

“You never quite know what you're going to see – it could be brilliant, it could be awful – though most 24:7 plays are closer to the former.

David Slack, the director of 24:7, wanted to create a festival that made theatre “non-threatening” so that it would appeal to people who might not normally go for this kind of entertainment, and the plan seems to have worked.

Now in its sixth year, this week-long festival of new plays by new writers is expanding. As well as their usual performance spaces in Pure in the Printworks, there'll be a bigger venue and a new festival bar at New Century House, just up the road.

For people who aren't familiar with how it works, new writers put together a script and send it to be read by the 24:7 judges. Says David: “If the script jumps off the page, we invite them in, then make the writer into the executive producer of their piece with the responsibility to get the show ready.”

It's a huge project for writers who have often never worked in theatre before. They have to recruit actors, arrange rehearsals, organise publicity, and alongside a director, oversee the creation of their play. ”

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, or at least for frayed nerves and imminent breakdowns, but it actually gives the festival an energy and atmosphere of its own. You never quite know what you're going to see – it could be brilliant, it could be awful – though most plays are closer to the former than the latter.

It's several levels above am-dram theatre with a tough judging process for the scripts, and some well-known actors appearing in the plays. Last year Jeff Hordley (Cain Dingle in Emmerdale) and Vicky Binns (Molly in Coronation Street) had parts. This year they've got Joyce Branagh directing one and Michael Starke (Sinbad in Brookie, Jerry in Corrie) in another.

“The thing is, the shows aren't built around celebrities and people's names – they just want to be in them and work with people,” says David. “The focus is on presenting new writing because as actors we want interesting things to do.”

This year's programme includes plays about detention without trial, marriage breakdowns, and one which is described as 'a comedy with ninjas.' There's 21 to see in total – see their website for listings information.

And for the first time this year, there's also going to be a social space, called the Hub, where festival-goers can meet for a drink and food. It'll be open during the day and after hours when performance poets, musicians, and vaudeville artists will provide entertainment.

Says David: “Come and see, bring a friend, get a drink, chat to people, and enjoy it.”

24:7 takes place from 20 July to 26 July. Plays will be shown at Pure in the Printworks, and New Century House (The Co-operative's headquarters). Plays are shown daily, including lunchtime, early evening and mid-evening shows. Tickets cost £8 or £6 concession. You can buy four tickets for the price of three.


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