Hi There,

For the last two weekends I have indulged myself by going to two FESTIVALS – on April 28th the Sundance London Film Festival and on May 5th the High Tide Theatre Festival.

Both were great in their very different ways – Sundance was huge, moneyed and international, with celebs like Robert Redford in attendance, whereas High Tide was much smaller-scale, in the very sleepy Suffolk town of Halesworth.

I stayed over in Halesworth on the Saturday night to see three plays on the Sunday, starting at 1.45. Wandering around the town on Sunday morning you’d have had no idea there was any sort of festival going on there, which was in sharp contrast to the massed ranks of t-shirted volunteers and posters at the O2 for Sundance.

But what both festivals had in common was the quality of the shows on offer. This seems to be true of the best festivals – they pick and choose, and the standard of the work on show is very high. This is certainly true of Sundance, High Tide – and I always think the London Film Festival in October gives you the chance to see so many excellent films – some of which you may never otherwise get a chance to see in the UK.

The other thing I really like about festivals is the chance to see new films and plays WITHOUT ANY OF THE NORMAL PUBLICITY. There’s something very satisfying about enjoying a film that you know nothing at all about – there’s an enjoyment in the surprise element.

At both Sundance and High Tide I booked (almost) without reading what the films\plays were about, who they were by. And I enjoyed every single one of them.

In my experience, the more you know about a show beforehand, the less likely you are to enjoy it! Particularly in film – with reviews and trailers – so much of the story is given away that it significantly damages your enjoyment of the film. And the revered Philip French of The Observer is the worst offender in my opinion!

So here are the shows I saw and why I enjoyed them –



Great idea for a film – not really done before in a comedy,  as writer \ director Stu Zuckerman pointed out in the Q&A at the end. Like so many of the best scripts, the writer, as an ‘Adult Child of Divorce’ himself, really had a strong, personal agenda – and this phenomenon is now so universal.

This had a great cast and a wonderful script. Very, very funny, but also very smart and at times very touching.


Not as great as ACOD but still very enjoyable . A classical, epic story. Told from the POV of a 14 year old kid in the deep South of America. It’s a gripping slow burn that culminates in a hugely exciting climactic confrontation sequence. But it would have been improved by being 30 minutes shorter.


BOTTLENECK by Luke Barnes

A very well-written and brilliantly performed monologue about a 14 year old Liverpool football supporter in 1989, who gets tickets for the FA Cup semi-final….initially hilarious becoming darker and darker. A powerful, moving piece of theatre.

PASTORAL  by Thomas Eccleshare

With a great central performance by Anna Calder Marshall, this is a really original piece of writing – a highly distinctive new voice. It’s dark but also very funny. And beneath the off-the-wall humour it has something very interesting to say. And the production is excellent. This is coming shortly to the Soho Theatre and I highly recommend it.

NEIGHBORS by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

An American play about issues of race. Brilliantly staged production of a very strange but really interesting play, with some more outstanding performances.

The High Tide Theatre Festival continues this weekend when, as well as all these and more theatre shows, there are some high-profile guest speakers (Stephen Poliakoff, Michael Frayn). If you’re up for some last minute arrangements, it’s well worth the trip!

I’ve been reading and watching new work (in whatever medium) for a very long time! And I do think that we’re in the middle of a rather golden age of new theatre writing.

Many truly excellent theatre writers have been on the Channel 4 screenwriting course in the last few years – and quite a few of them are now beginning to make their mark as screenwriters.

Over the last few years I’ve generally gone through slightly manic spells of going to the theatre regularly over several months then seeing something dull or worse – and not going again for a few months until I decide I really need to see more theatre. But in the past, in my experience, the hit rate hasn’t been that great – a couple of decent shows, followed by two not-so-good shows, and then my enthusiasm wanes…

But over the last couple of years, it’s been hit after hit (I’m talking my subjective response here – not box office success necessarily!) Most of my theatre trips are restricted to London – but the new writing scene is really thriving.

Recently I’ve been to ‘Glory-Dazed’ by Cat Jones and ‘God’s Property’ by Arinze Kene at the Soho Theatre, ‘The Low Road’ by Bruce Norris at the Royal Court – all excellent.

And before that, shows like ‘The Witness’ by Vivienne Franzmann and ‘Posh’ by Laura Wade, ‘Old Money’ by Sarah Wooley, ‘Tactical Questioning’ by Richard Norton Taylor stand out.

It would be great if the new screenwriting world was half as vibrant as the new theatre writing scene! There are so many talented screenwriters in the UK but too few showcases for the work of new screenwriters.

Every year on the Channel 4 screenwriting course I’m knocked out by how many really excellent writers we have – and it looks like this year will be no exception.

Until next week

All the best



twittter: @philipshelley1

May 10th 2013