Festival time comes to Suffolk

THEATRE lovers in Ipswich and Felixstowe have been enjoying a busy time as both towns put on their annual festivals.We sent Evening Star reviewer and playwright SUSAN HAWKES to see a selection of the shows on offer.

THEATRE lovers in Ipswich and Felixstowe have been enjoying a busy time as both towns put on their annual festivals.

We sent Evening Star reviewer and playwright SUSAN HAWKES to see a selection of the shows on offer.

Beachy Head - devised by Analogue - Opening production of the Pulse festival, May 29. New Wolsey Theatre.

Analogue are not strangers to the New Wolsey having brought the first part of this trilogy, Mile End, to the main house last year. Even so, this was an unusual choice for an opening production given that it is a work in progress and a lot of ideas about the direction of the piece are still being formatted.

Having said that this was still a powerful drama and much about the production worked very well on many levels.

Analogue specialise in devised work that uses a lot of new media and this piece was no exception. The staging is quite basic but much use is made of multipurpose screens

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and the clever use of projections, lighting and simple effects controlled by the whole company moved the action along with pace and pathos. The story focuses on a suicide at Beachy Head but the play is as much about the exploitation of the media and the ripple effects of another's decisions as the reasons behind such drastic actions.

Some of the characters were better rounded than others -and there is more work to do on the back stories, but the whole cast worked seamlessly together and the overall effect was at times stunning and always thought provoking.

An imaginative opener to what promises to be an interesting festival.

Iron Eyelashes - Imaginary Forces - Pulse Festival Saturday May 31, New Wolsey Studio

Iron Eyelashes began as a series of five theatrical events examining the effects of the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. This resultant play, still a work in progress, concentrated on the stories of Pieter, a young cabaret singer, and his sister Anna who are on opposite sides of the city when the wall goes up, and Anna's boyfriend Karl who is part of the East German security forces and ends up betraying her for his ideals.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Pieter as an old man using music as a key to unlock a lot of memories and imagined events.

Both Pieters are on stage a lot of the time and the overlapping of the stories was well directed by Simon Stephens. The relationship between Anna and the two men in her life were nicely drawn by writer Imogen Brodie.

The scenes in the West however, seemed to lack heart and this may have been that Pieter's story there was underwritten.

Further more there was not much original in the direction taken by the plot and as the play progressed we learnt very little about how any of the characters coped with what must have been a very extraordinary and unnerving situation.

The ending was quite powerful, but with a slow start the play did seem to drag a little.

However, it was only a staged reading and perhaps a more polished performance will bring out the atmosphere that was lacking in this production.

Positive by Lorna French - Pulse Festival Sunday June 1, New Wolsey Studio

Lorna is the writer in residence at the New Wolsey and this was a staged reading of her first play working with the theatre and Peter Rowe.

Positive gives us a glimpse into the lives of two couples in modern day South Africa- both of which are having to make difficult, maybe life changing, decisions.

Nasri and Sipho live in the townships and work for Ben and Lizzie. Ben is a journalist who has just found out he has contracted HIV after a one night stand with his editor. Lizzie has just found out she is pregnant.

Meanwhile Nasri believes she is a Sangoma, and wrestles with her conscience about using her gift of insight and healing in the face of her husband's opposition.

This is a well written and insightful play with good use of dialogue - especially between Nasri and Sipho. However, I think there are some issues that still need to be explored in the context of what the play is trying to say. If it is a discussion of the HIV problem in South Africa then it lacks content and focus. Ben and Lizzie could be experiencing their problem anywhere. It doesn't help that they are in fact from England, and so there is no pointing up of the problem particular to South Africa of denial, ignorance and scale.

As a play about the influence of animism and Sangomas it is interesting but does not really open up a debate. Sipho is far too ready to accept his wife's decision to practise, and there are no counter arguments put forward.

Maybe the play just needs a little more focus.

Having said that the characters are all believable, the relationships between the couples well explored and there are some very enjoyable as well as very powerful moments.

Salt of the Earth - John Godber - Felixstowe Drama Festival Thursday 29th May, Spa Pavilion.

Half way through the week and it was the turn of Cardiff Players to woo the Spa audience with a John Godber special about life in the north. Set in a mining town the plot takes us through the life of two families from the late forties to the 70's focusing on the relationships between sisters Annie and May and their hopes for May's son Paul whose academic ambition flies in the face of his family's mining traditions.

Because of the wide sweep of the action the set has to be minimal so the actors have to take this play by the scruff of the neck and engage the audience from the start.

Unfortunately they did take a little time to get into their stride so the first half hour did lack some life. However, once they settled into the space and became comfortable with their characters the story began to take shape and the humour became more evident.

Godber can be fairy gritty and is not to everyone's taste, but after the rocky start the whole cast really worked hard to bring the play to life. Good use of lighting and music completed the picture and the overall production worked well in the end.

The Pulse festival runs until June 14, For more information visit www.pulsefringe.com

Did you go to the Felixstowe Drama Festival? What have you enjoyed at Pulse? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk