TakeTen, Chesil Theatre’s New Playwriting Festival, finally came to the stage earlier this month and has been voted an all-round success. Winning writers with judges, directors and cast were all able to meet at performances of the sell-out shows over one weekend.
Popular novelist Dom Brennan was also in the audience and writes:
While amateur theatre may at times have an image problem, if the recent TakeTen playwriting festival organised by Winchester's Chesil Theatre is anything to go by, it really shouldn’t have.
Certainly, Sir Ian McKellen seems to agree, perhaps as he along with so many other well-known actors, from Michael Gambon and Sir Anthony Hopkins to Glenda Jackson and Ben Kingsley, all came up through the amateur theatre route.
The Chesil’s 2014 festival of 10-minute plays drew from him this comment: '...the whole enterprise was startlingly good and an example of what a theatre company like the Chesil can do better than a professional one.' And the launch of the latest festival in 2020 received similar backing from Sir Kenneth Branagh, praising its commitment to unlocking creativity and the imagination.
These biennial events have been running since 2008 and the latest competition received over 400 entries from across the UK, submitted for judging by professionals in the dramatic arts. This year's theme of The Road Not Taken might have been a hostage to fortune; possibly inviting the odd car crash of a play or ones going nowhere in particular. But scripts selected from some already prize-winning, albeit relatively unknown, writers have not surprisingly revealed some tiny gems.
But if the brief was to stimulate creativity and imagination and develop an engaging theme inside of ten minutes how well was it met? Rather well, as it happens. The humorous pieces gave us a modern riff on Macbeth's three witches unwilling to predict the outcome of an uncertain Romeo's romantic choice in A Desert Place, the absurdist comedy of an unshakeably confident traveller convincing an initially sceptical passer-by that his non-existent bus must inevitably arrive (Along any Minute), a reworking of The Emperor's New Clothes, about pointless systems upgrades, nicely couched in the twaddle that is modern business jargon (The Belgians), plus a satire on the perils of traversing a newly revolutionary, and newly bureaucratic European state (Pufferfish over the Carpathians), which had uncomfortable portents of our current freight delivery situation.
In a darker vein there were moving pieces on dealing with guilt and grief via imaginary conversations with a dead parent (A Grande Day Out), sisters revealing the bitter legacy of their recently deceased brother (Careful), and a soldier's life paused by the priming of a land-mine (Tremble). Somewhere between the two extremes we had the evolution of an unpredictably intertwined friendship (All Our Lives) and an echoing, atmospheric piece set in a tunnel (Tunnel).
However, the standout was surely Steve Clark's searingly convincing portrayal of a macho taxi driver coming to terms with the dawning realisation of his homosexuality, via a soliloquy of sustained virtuosity (Waiting for a Fare). He did the taut script by John-Paul Jones full credit and his ability to inhabit his character may well have convinced some audience members to seek to book him for a cab-ride home.
As with England's exhilarating performance this summer in the rescheduled 2020 Euros, this Covid-delayed production from the Chesil, which has been presenting around half a dozen classic and modern plays annually since being based in Chesil Street in 1966, proved well worth the wait.
Despite the different approaches of each writer there was an impressively coherent feel to the whole endeavour, with the cast and production team amateur in name only. In fact, I’d say the only difference between this amateur production and a professional alternative was that in the latter the performers normally get paid.”
About Dom Brennan
Dom Brennan was born in Essex, studied at King Edward VI Grammar School and Nottingham University before taking up a career in IT based in London. In 1993 he moved to Winchester and had a number of published works. These include The Black Diamond Stamp Club, set in the 1960s and following the meetings of a schoolboy stamp club in Essex and Out Of Anglia, a children’s story featuring an ostrich farm in Norfolk. There followed an initial series of “Art Detective” comedy novels featuring Inspector Ernest Montcrieff of the Serious Freud Office – including The Trembling Trilby and The Return of the Trilby. All are available as Kindle ebooks from Amazon.
About the TakeTen winners:
A Desert Place
A Grande Day Out
All Our Lives,
Along Any Minute
Pufferfish Over the Carpathians
Waiting For a Fare
About the judges for TakeTen
- Kate Spencer, stage and television actor, currently playing Grace Vickers in Coronation Street.
- George Richmond-Scott, West End director and voice coach, presently teaching at ALRA and RADA Business.
- Rosanne Collinson, Head of Drama, Peter Symonds College, Winchester
- Simon Plumridge, core member of Winchester’s professional touring company Platform 4
- Cecily O’Neill, author, Artistic Director of 2Time Theatre and a previous judge for Chesil Theatre writing festivals.
About Chesil Theatre
Chesil Theatre (Winchester Dramatic Society) is based in the heart of Winchester, presenting six main productions a year, ranging from comedy to classics. Chesil Theatre also runs drama workshops and readings, plus two lively youth theatre groups as well as offering stagecraft and technical training. The Company has been performing for over 150 years.
Since 1966 Chesil Theatre has been the Society’s permanent home - a former 12th century church in Chesil Street, Winchester. This medieval building provides an intimate 75-seat studio-style theatre and versatile performance space.