As an East Anglian myself, I’m well aware that the region has been home a number of talented creatives over the years, including Sirs Trevor Nunn and Peter Hall. And now the region’s playwrights are being celebrated at the Ink Festival, which comes to London for the very first time.
The Ink Festival has produced over 150 plays over the last five years, and this year’s offering, Feast from the East, comprises nine short plays (selected from 350 submissions) from writers with a strong physical or historical connection to East Anglia, including Richard Curtis and Shappi Khorsandi. The production showcases the best of theatre with a combination of brilliantly funny plays and moving, tender pieces. Leading the way in comedy is Richard Curtis’s Another Suitcase, Another Hall, directed by Julia Sowerbutts and Huw Brentnall, which takes the audience behind the scenes of Evita rehearsals led by a director with an odd, but hilarious obsession with the suitcase. Laden with classic Curtis comedy, the play is short, sharp and showcases the comic talents of the acting trio of Amber Muldoon, the scene-stealing Ed Jones and the brilliant William Kempsell. Ping Pong Club, written by Ed Jones, is also a highlight of the evening as the audience realises just how entertaining – and competitive – ping pong can be. Meanwhile Shaun Kitchener’s comedy That’s Great! certainly lives up to its name and is packed full of laughs and hilariously cringeworthy, if a little predictable moments. Ed Jones’ performance as the betrayed Rory is one of the standout moments of the entire show and worth the ticket price alone.
Elsewhere Jackie Carreira’s Invisible Irene, a one-woman play beautifully acted by Ann Bryson, is a warm and touching tale of a woman reflecting on her age and feelings of invisibility as she clears out her wardrobe. A Selfish Boy, written by Christopher Reason, is a haunting drama which takes a look at a son’s (Chris Larner) memories of his mother (Hilary Greatorex), particularly their last conversation which still plagues him to this day. After Prospero, set some 400 years after The Tempest, is an imaginative, if a little too much at times Brexit parable focusing on two sisters (Amber Muldoon and Tessa Wojtczak) who are reunited for their father’s wake. James McDermott’s Mixed Up is a clever and brilliantly acted piece about Adam (Will Howard), who finds his Eve at a party, but all isn’t as it seems.
Two of the plays, Wellington by Scarlett Curtis (a talent for writing clearly runs in the family), and Nina’s Not Okay by Shappi Khorsandi are both inspired by Wellington boots, both feature strong women and are particular highlights of the evening. Wellington is a warm and witty portrayal of three generations of women as they sit down to watch the Royal Wedding, while Nina’s Not Okay focuses on a 17-year-old girl (Amber Muldoon) who’s been through a tough time of late.
The sets for each of the pieces are relatively simple, but this allows them to follow on from one another seamlessly without breaking the flow. The plays are all brilliantly performed by the strong cast, many of whom appear in more than one piece. Ed Jones and William Kempsell are particularly impressive, demonstrating razor sharp comic timing in their various roles, while Will Howard excels as Adam in Mixed Up. Ann Bryson is endearing to watch in Invisible Irene, while the brilliant Jill Freud* threatens to steal the show in just a matter of minutes as the strong, warm and witty Doris in Wellington.
With the focus often on London theatre, Feast from the East proves there’s a lot of promising talent outside of London. An unforgettable evening of theatre, Feast from the East is entertaining, moving and thought-provoking, and makes me proud to be an East Anglian!
Feast from the East is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 18th May.
Photo credit: Origin 8 Photography
*Cast as per press night