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24:7 is upon us: enjoy

Kevin Bourke previews next week’s feast of theatrical fun

Published on July 25th 2010.

24:7 is upon us: enjoy

Seven years ago I was Theatre Editor at the Manchester Evening News and a local actor called David Slack approached me about publicising a festival he'd conceived, with another local actor Amanda Hennessy.

I hope I made all the right supportive noises but, frankly, I thought he was completely bonkers. Surely, this was another brave and inventive Manchester venture that was doomed to go down in flames. I'm happy to say that I was proved completely wrong.

Inspired by the Edinburgh Festival, 24:7 was going to showcase local writing and performing talent, it was going to consist entirely of brand-new writing, there were going to be more than twenty new hour-long pieces, all performed several times in the course of just 7 days (hence 24:7) and it was all going to take place in non-theatrical spaces - bars, clubs and the like. I hope I made all the right supportive noises but, frankly, I thought he was completely bonkers. Surely, this was another brave and inventive Manchester venture that was doomed to go down in flames.

I'm happy to say that I was proved completely wrong.

That first festival, for all its panics, last-minute disasters and occasional sparse audiences, struck such a chord with its sheer enthusiasm and the quality of the talent involved at every level, that 24:7 is now widely accepted as just about the most exciting annual event in the Manchester theatre calendar.

This weekend it's back for its seventh year. Lessons have been learned and changes made but, essentially, it’s another exhilarating opportunity to catch a line-up of original and challenging one-hour plays, nurturing new writing and acting talent. How refreshing is that to consider against a backdrop of Government-mandated cuts in the arts? There are theatres that do a terrific job of providing big touring musicals or high-profile productions but without new writing, where’s the vitality, the future?

This year, David, mindful that the sheer scale of the event in earlier days might have been valuable in getting attention but occasionally meant that the point of the exercise - the writing - got missed, has opted to limit the number of full productions to ten, albeit still with dozens of performances over seven fast and furious days, and all the shows will be concentrated in two venues within sponsor The Co-operative’s historic New Century House. There’s also a series of four rehearsed readings for writers in development, and several After Hours events, including short films, a comedy evening and Question and Answer sessions.

In strictly alphabetical order this year’s productions include Paul Osborne’s The Bluest Blue. Directed by Paul Stonehouse, the play involves two strangers who meet on a bench outside York Minster. The Fading Hum, written by Charlotte Essex and directed by Laura Keefe, explores big concepts such as guilt, death and estrangement. Colette Kane’s Ways To Look At Fish was a big hit at the 2008 24:7. Colette, and director Nick Moss, are back this time around with Hatch, charting the heartbreaking homecoming of an absentee father. The Inconsistent Whisper Of Insanity, set in the 1920s during an unsuccessful uprising against the Russian government, is the latest from award-winning playwright/director Ian Moore.

Islanders, a dark comedy by Dick Curran, is “a climate-change love triangle set on remote Northumbrian islands,” while Make Believe, written by the team of Luke Walker and Sally Lawton and directed by Mike Heath, looks at what happens when imagination and real life get mixed up.

Kim Jackson and Rebecca Mahon’s play No View From The Window turns a decaying WC into a dramatic confessional for Louise on the day of her mother’s funeral, while a robbery at a pawn shop turns into a hostage situation in Pawn from copper-turned-playwright Brian Marchbank.

In Sean Gregory’s Reeling, directed by award-winning Richard Vergette, sisters Jude and Alice break into their elderly neighbour’s house only to stumble across a wall of cassette tapes that are recordings of their entire lives, while Sheepish, by Joyce Branagh, answers the, frankly improbable, question, “have you ever wondered what Samuel Beckett might have written if he’d been an avid viewer of One Man and His Dog?"

The rehearsed readings, at 6pm are of: Baby Shaped Hole by Julia Hogan, directed by Elizabeth Newman (Tuesday); Domestic Bliss by Roy Knowles, directed by Jim Poyser (Wednesday); All Because Of Molly by Paul Ferguson, directed by Martin Jameson (Thursday); and A Lady Of Substance by Jon Cooper, directed by Matthew Dunster (Friday).

There are also the four After Hours sessions, all starting at 10:30pm and each costing £3 on the door. On Tuesday, there's Scriptworks on tour, where excerpts of new scripts will be presented and discussed.

Wednesday sees three UK short film premières, all made in the north west by people from the north west. Acid Burn is written and directed by BAFTA Award-winning writer Matt Greenhalgh (Control, Nowhere Boy, Burn It) and features supermodel Agyness Deyne. Resting, a term possibly too familiar to actors in attendance, has been written and directed by actors William Ash (who starred in You Can See The Hills at the Exchange Studio as well as on TV in Burn It and Waterloo Road) and Andrew Knott (who played Lockwood in The History Boys). Local businesswoman Janet Harrison produced Master Motivator, which she also wrote, apparently by sheer effort of will, combining entrepreneurial resolve with an earlier passion for writing and acting. Noreen Kershaw directs and John Henshaw stars. Modesty should forbid me from pointing out that one Kevin Bourke will host the event and chair a Q&A session with the writers. But it hasn’t.

On Friday, Elizabeth Newman, Assistant Artistic Director at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, chairs a panel discussion and Q & A on New Writing, with Octagon Artistic Director David Thacker, playwright David Eldridge, and playwright and director Matthew Dunster. Saturday finds 24:7 venturing into the realms of a Comedy Sketch Night, featuring brand-new 10 short comedy sketches.

*The 24:7 Festival is at New Century House from Monday July 26 until August 1. To book or for more information, please contact: www.247theatrefestival.co.uk.

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