Off Cut Festival 2011: Selecting the bloggers’ choice

Last night was good fun, as I joined with fellow bloggers Luke, Alison, Ian and Havana at The Actor Works in Wapping to select four 15-minute plays to go forward to October’s Off Cut Festival.

The Off Cut script reading panel had already decided upon 24 such plays to go forward to October’s festival. We were going to listen to readings of another eight, and collectively would decide on the final four scripts that would make up the 28 Off Cut Festival 2011 submissions. Or, in festival organiser Daniel Brennan’s words:

The reading panel selects 32 plays, all of which they would be happy to have in the festival. From that 32, 24 are put into four groups to best reflect the diversity of writing style/genre/tone/casting in order to present the most exciting, interesting and varied programme for the audience. The remaining eight are presented in a rehearsed reading to a panel of eminent theatre bloggers, who then choose their favourite four. Those plays will join the original 24; one in each group.

(I know. I can’t believe he thought I was eminent either.)

All the playwrights whose work was featured last night have now been contacted, so it’s safe for me to say that the four plays going forward into the Festival are, in alphabetical order:

  • Click by Mike Carter
  • The Final Days of Fringe Theatre by Ian Townsend
  • They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad by Michael O’Hanlon
  • Two Rings by Louise Taylor

We arrived at the decision by each selecting our top three of the eight, after which we had three definitive scripts way out in front. Discussions turned to which play would be our fourth choice, and there was much less unanimity there: our conversations were good-natured but raucous at times, but I think we made the right decision. I don’t think all four plays going ahead have an equal chance of winning the Festival’s grand prize by any stretch of the imagination, but they do provide a balance of drama, comedy, thought-provoking social comment and surreal absurdism that should keep the Riverside Studios audience entertained in October.

I won’t go into specific details about what misgivings I had about some of the other plays we were read, but there were some commonalities that niggled at me:

  • A couple of plays had dialogue of the ‘on-the-nose’ sort that you find more in soap operas than you do in good stage plays. People tend not to verbally express what they are feeling all the time, instead supplementing a little bit of verbal dialogue with body language or more subtle verbal cues – when they change the subject mid-sentence, for example.
  • I noticed a tendency in one or two scripts to provide elaborate stage directions, down to describing every single prop one or other of the actors interacted with. In some cases that may be necessary, but it can also feel like the writer is letting the props speak in place of the characters.
  • On a number of occasions, the original concept for the play seemed to run out of steam well before the 15 minutes of the reading were up. In one instance, a major revelation was obvious within the first couple of minutes, which made for the wrong sort of tension. A little bit of foreknowledge on the audience’s part can be great. We all like to know more than the characters on stage occasionally, but for the whole play?

I don’t want to sound like I’m griping – each of the eight authors whose works we saw have actually written a play for submission, which is more than I’ve ever done, so they are all to be applauded for that. But thinking about why the plays I didn’t vote for didn’t work has helped to convince me that the four that are going through are the right ones.

Oh, and this morning I found out that my friend (and former TV Today writing colleague) Mark Wright had a script accepted as one of the plays that went into the inital pool of 24. So when the Off Cut Festival rolls round in October, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Looking For Vi

Thanks to play readers Wendy, Daniel, Joann, Ben, Katherine, Nick and Janet for the entertaining performances, and In Company & The Actor Works for the hospitality

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.