TheatreFest16 has drawn to a close after a weekend of journeys-themed new works for the theatre which took audiences from an inn in Bristol (Morning Star by Stephen Harper) to a war-torn land (Journeys, directed by John Young) and then on to Selfridges in London, (one of the settings for Megan and Me, directed by Stage Door Entertainment, curators of the festival.
An Isle of Man Arts Council event, TheatreFest16 builds on the success of the 2015 festival and is a legacy outcome from the Arts Council's Island of Culture 2014 year-long celebrations of the arts.
Hosting the festival was Ballakermeen High School's Studio Theatre, a venue which, in his welcome address on the opening night, Friday September 24, Arts Council chairman Geoff Corkish MBE MLC said looked set to become TheatreFest's 'home'.
Arts Council vice-chairman Michael Lees added that TheatreFest16 was about 'new works, new places...and new ways of thinking about theatre.'
Launching the festival was Morning Star, by Stephen Harper, from Norfolk, winner of TheatreFest15's slavery-themed play-writing competition.
Guest speaker, the celebrated adjudicator Colin Dolley, had judged the competition and praised Mr Harper's play for its 'compelling narrative' then went on to commend the Arts Council for recognising 'the importance of the arts in the community' before outlining what he looked for when judging a script.
Following Mr Dolley was Mr Harper, for whom TheatreFest16 would mark the first time he had seen Morning Star performed, a prospect that prompted him to comment: 'There's something amazing watching words you've written down come alive when the cast perform.'
Set in The Blind Fiddler Inn in Bristol in the 1800s, Morning Star dealt with slavery from the perspective of the characters involved in the trade, described in graphically authentic detail, and finishing with a twist in the tale.
Saturday evening saw a double bill: Journeys, a piece of devised theatre with a community company of actors directed by theatre director John Young. Brought up in the Isle of Man, Mr Young was taking a break from his schedule in the UK to be involved with the festival and hold school and community workshops.
Introducing his work, which dealt with refugee families forced to flee their home and war-torn country, Mr Young explained how he and his seven-strong female cast of community actors had had just one week of 'intensive' evening rehearsals to bring the piece together which he described as 'hot out of the oven'.
Megan and Me was a new musical review about enduring friendship written by local musician David Holland in collaboration with Lisa Kreisky and Kristene Sutcliffe of Stage Door Entertainment, who also played the adult roles of Megan (Sutcliffe) and Melissa (Kreisky). The show followed the two friends through their lives from the playground to professional career achievements and drew loosely on the characters Mimi and Musetta in Puccini's La Bohème.
The festival concluded with a pop-up performance of Morning Star in the Rover's Return, Church Street, Douglas, prompting the play's author to comment: 'If ever a play were suited to being performed in a pub, it's Morning Star.'
Supplementing the festival weekend were two Arts Council-sponsored 'Journey into Theatre'-themed workshops by Danielle Bridson from the Arts Hub which gave young people opportunities to explore theatre in widest sense, using song, dance, drama and craft.
Reflecting on TheatreFest16 Mr Lees said: 'It was fitting that this year's theme was journeys, for TheatreFest itself is on something of a journey as all the time we're learning and the concept is evolving. That's what so exciting about the project, as the actors, directors and musicians – and of course the audiences – go on a journey together to explore new works and formats for the theatre.
'The intimacy of the Studio Theatre provided the ideal space for the festival and contributed enormously to that all-important connection between the audience and the actors - very much a distinguishing feature of TheatreFest - so we're very grateful to the crew and to Ballakermeen High School's head teacher Adrienne Burnett for their enthusiasm and support.
'TheatreFest has demonstrated to powerful effect yet again how passion for the theatre can be ignited or reawakened. It has also revealed the amazing amount of performing talent – latent and established – there is within the Isle of Man community.
'Once again TheatreFest successfully brought together those new to acting and established artists to create three unique new works. TheatreFest has challenged us, made us reconsider previously held convictions, surprised – even shocked - us on occasions. It's also made us laugh and made us cry...all of which is what theatre should be about.'
TheatreFest16 play-writing competition
Entries are still being invited for the TheatreFest16 play-writing competition, which asks writers from the island and around the world to submit a new one-act play based on 'journeys'.
The winner will have his or her play performed during TheatreFest17.