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10×10 New Writing Festival: Hidden Worlds

As a regular to Chesil Theatre over the years, I have seen many varied productions and exceptional performances, but I think this is the first time that I have seen a combination of 10 diverse plays and assorted excellent performances in one sitting there.

10×10 at Chesil Theatre is the culmination of a biannual national writing competition for the country’s best established and upcoming playwrights; it has been running in its different stages throughout the year, with the theme for each 10-minute play being ‘Hidden Worlds’. From around 400 entrants, the independently-judged final selection of 10 plays are performed back to back, with five before and after the interval; as Forrest Gump might say, this show is “like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get”, but be assured that it is a veritable box of delights!

With roughly three weeks from the final selection being chosen to the actual performance, each play director, production team and cast must be totally focused and committed to the process to ensure the high quality of performances that Chesil Theatre patrons have come to expect. Without exception, each have achieved this with considerable style within their specific genre.

My understanding is that each of the originally submitted plays were divided into specific categories before being adjudicated by a panel of highly esteemed judges, with each play read and assessed anonymously, so that it is really the best of the best that appears on the stage in a finely balanced selection of light-hearted comedy, sharp satire, drama and poignant observations. You might be forgiven for assuming that a selection of ‘New Writing’ plays would be excessively wordy, but what is also very powerful during this selection is the pregnant pauses amongst the slick, fast paced narratives, where the physicality and facial expressions of the actors (accentuated within the intimate Chesil Theatre venue) speaks volumes.

Among the numerous local very talented actors, superb individual performances come from Corinne Strickett (exquisite comic timing and delivery in A Big Splash), Nicky Malliarou (totally hilarious as the Spanish waitress in The Last Supper) and Alan Jenks (a wanted man in The Marigolds in Moscow). However, there are also outstanding two-handed performances from Vicky Heaslip and Felix Price (skilfully capturing the possible juxtaposition of chat room and real personas in Birthday), and Lukas Wright and Sander Jordbakke (with their physicality as isolated inmates in The Worst of the Worst); neither couple makes eye contact with each other, but their body language again expresses so much more than just their spoken words. Molly Ridgeon and Charlie Hurst also give terrific performances in Distant Sky, finishing each other’s sentences while their separate dialogues overlap and intertwine with each other, taking the audience on a comic, insightful and ultimately poignant journey, and the trio of Mike Dorey, Mandi Francis and Alice May Ferngrove vividly bring to life what everyone who has ever been on hold to customer services imagines to be happening on the other end of the line!

Each of the 10 directors must take credit for producing succinct, high quality productions of these splendidly written short plays, ensuring focused, committed, high energy and dynamic performances. Special mention must be made for the lighting, sound and video designs that are used throughout (lighting designer, Peter Vincent; sound and video designer, Tony Rogers; all expertly implemented with precision timing by technician Vanessa Denson). With the stage completely white, the use of atmospheric lights and projected images really helps to establish and reinforce locations and moods for each piece, while the sound effects are perfectly pitched with accuracy and levels to ensure that they fully compliment the performances and writing, never overpowering, but always enhancing the overall production quality.