Ten Out Of Ten for 10×10 Festival


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REVIEW: 10×10 New Writing Festival – Helena Gomm and David Cradduck find out that ten is the real deal. Images by Tony Rogers.

Helena Gomm writes: This year’s Chesil Theatre 10×10 New Writing Festival, featuring the winners of the 10×10 playwriting competition, has the title ‘Hidden Worlds’, a theme which the ten winning playwrights interpreted in an impressive variety of ways.

Established in 2008, this writing competition attracts entries from all over the country – from first-time writers as well as those who have already made a name for themselves.

Each play has to be ten minutes long, and the ten winners have the opportunity to see their work performed at the festival. The scripts are read and assessed anonymously by the reading panel to ensure that writers of all backgrounds and any level of experience have an equal chance of having their piece chosen.

David Cradduck and I decided to review the festival together and, as there were ten plays to watch, five comedies and five dramas, we split them between us, with David taking the comedies and I the more serious pieces.

Three of the dramas, ‘Underground’, ‘The Worst of the Worst’ and ‘Birthday’ are set in defined places: an abandoned railway platform, an online chatroom and a prison. The other two, ‘Distant Sky’ and ‘Mum’s the Word’ have no specific setting, being explorations into the hidden worlds of relationships and the mind.


Some raise questions, often left unanswered. In ‘Underground’ by Andrew Crook, where a banker with a briefcase encounters a homeless girl on a station platform, we are left wondering if the man is really a ghost.

Does the homeless girl who seems to know all about his life save him from a previous suicide attempt? Is she just a manifestation of his conscience? Is she also dead? This is certainly a play that piques the audience’s curiosity and makes a splendid opening piece.

‘The Worst of the Worst’ by Shaadi Rad also leaves us with unanswered questions.

(The Worst of the Worst)

In this play, we are confronted by two men in solitary confinement. It appears that they might both be in prison for murder, but how long have they been there and why does their treatment seem more like that meted out to political prisoners than to common criminals? The sound of the lights in the men’s cells being switched on and off is particularly effective and disquieting.

Perhaps the most chilling play of all, and my particular favourite, is ‘Birthday’ by Amy Guyler, in which we see two people in an internet chatroom. Maddie is a 13-year-old girl; Jake an older man pretending to be a teenager.


Jake is played by Felix Price who doesn’t look much older than Vicky Heaslip, playing Maddie, so it is a while before the audience catch on to the fact that he is not what he seems and is, in fact, grooming Maddie for sex, persuading her to join him in Brighton for a birthday treat that will involve a restaurant meal and an overnight stay in a hotel.

With an older actor, we would get this much quicker and would spend a longer and more agonising time willing Maddie to spot the signs that he isn’t who he is pretending to be and hoping that she will see sense and back away from the encounter. Nevertheless, both characters are totally convincing and it is unnerving to see how easily such a scenario might play out in real life.

The two dramas in the second half, ‘Distant Sky’ and ‘Mum’s the Word’ are more poignant than chilling.

(Distant Sky)

The first, written by Kieran Spiers is a fast-paced gallop through the consciousness of a young couple, detailing their life together, their hopes, dreams, worries and aspirations. Then tragedy strikes and the two suddenly become one, leaving us with a brief but touching account of how the one left behind might survive the loss.

(Mum’s The Word)

‘Mum’s the Word’ by Micha Colombo takes us into the consciousness of Johanna, a young mother who loves her children, but feels that her own identity is being lost as she is submerged by the labels and identities thrust upon her by friends, family members and the children themselves. I particularly like the way the children are represented here: bundled up towels hang from Johanna’s body, with the youngest dangling like a millstone around her neck.

David Cradduck writes: I admit to being a 10×10 virgin, never having experienced the format before, nor having attended any of Chesil’s previous festivals. Helena and I tossed a metaphorical coin to see who would write up what and my second admission in one paragraph is, therefore, to say that I think I have the easier task – to review the five comedy playlets presented this weekend by festival director and co-founder Deborah Edgington.

I say this because, compared to the five drama pieces, they are decidedly more straightforward. And funny, of course. The scattering of comedy amongst the more serious also provides much needed light relief from some of the more serious subject matters.

That’s not to say that there aren’t topical or sensitive issues being played out in the comedy pieces, each of which is as different from the others as could be: mental health, space exploration, political conspiracy, an unstable US president, call centre shenanigans and sinister visitors from Russia. It’s all there to be ripped apart for a good chuckle.

First up in the comedy call is ‘A Big Splash’ by Matthew Baillie, a four-hander set in remote Scotland where a couple of eminent science professors and a paranoid UK government agent arrive by helicopter to persuade Carol (well portrayed by Corinne Strickett) that naming the new planet she has discovered ‘Beryl’ is not going to go down well.

(A Big Splash)

The piece is fairly toilet-orientated as it turns out that the eight-foot aliens from ‘Beryl’ intend to visit us, their burning desire being to experience the delight of having a poo from a great height into running water on Earth. Bizarre stuff and highly entertaining, with some quick one-liners played po-faced, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Intriguingly entitled ‘The Last Supper’, my favourite – by a short head – is a somewhat traditional tale of revenge (by the time you read this, the spoiler alert will be old news).

(The Last Supper)

Written by Paul King, an established local playwright, this delightful tale set under the hot sun of Spain, sees holidaymakers Brian (far too plausible a performance by Peter Andrews!) and Susan (Chesil favourite Mary Mitchell) arrive at a Spanish café.

We quickly ‘get’ that Brian is a bigot and a selfish bully. “I said we should have gone to Cornwall” is a sort of recurring theme. Unlike Susan, he is not that keen on staying to taste the delights of the tavern (simply but exquisitely portrayed by a single table with red check tablecloth, two chairs and projected backdrop).

Things take on a very lively turn when larger-than-life waitress Maria, fresh from a few rounds of crockery smashing offstage, arrives and quickly brings him down a peg or two.

Played to excess – and rightly so – Nicky Malliarou makes this female matador character her own from the start and before you know where you are, she has Brian quaking on the floor mumbling “I’m a silly boy… and I’m very smelly”. Hilarious and a light-hearted finale to the first half of the festival.

One comment at the interval: “Gosh, can’t you cram a lot into ten minutes!”. Too true.

The second half of the programme starts with a decidedly odd but amusing piece of nonsense about nano-technology and President Trump’s brain. Well, Chesil does have a very small, intimate stage …. Entitled ‘Rook Raven Crow’ and written by David Jarvis, three people who definitely wouldn’t be on Trump’s next wedding invitation list – a Mexican (from Balham), a Muslim woman and – er – a plasterer, have been shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the president’s brain to give it a bit of a clean up.

(Rook Raven Crow)

The result is projected footage of Donald T with a convincing voiceover by Dead Ringer Jon Culshaw proclaiming that, far from building walls, Mr Trump’s main aim is now to ‘build bridges’ between us all so we can all live in peace and harmony. If only!

By complete contrast, the penultimate comedic offering is excruciating to watch, but in a hilarious way. Anyone who has recently rung a call centre to complain that they have been sent the wrong goods (coincidentally as I was yesterday morning) and has been put on hold for what seems hours – and could well be – will sympathise with poor Adam (Mike Dorey) who, clutching his recently opened envelope, tries to find out what happened to the Harry Potter books he ordered, having received only the collectable covers.


Of course, the books could have been anything from a garden hose to a rocking horse. The essence of the play is that the two call centre ladies, using a variety of alter egos and matching voices, keep poor old Adam on hold for ever, listening with increasing frustration to annoying hold music and being given the runaround whenever he actually does get to speak to someone.

I can sympathise with him – it’s as if these people really do conspire to make your life a misery and your phone bill extraordinarily high. What stands out for me are the facial expressions employed by the two ladies (Mandi Francis and Alice May Ferngrove) whilst doing their nails, reading magazines (one rather incongruously a Which magazine) and eating a packet of Wotsits in an amusing experiment of different nibbling techniques. Only ten short minutes, ‘Hold’ by Michael O’Neill at times feels painfully long. Which is the point, I think.

To close, there is a laugh-out-loud topical comedy set against a backdrop of Salisbury Cathedral, so you can have a cracking guess at what that is about. The Cold War codeword-on-a-park-bench theme is tried and tested but ‘The Marigolds in Moscow’ brings you bang up to date.

The Marigolds in Moscow)

Written by English teacher Will Collinson as a tribute to Harold Pinter, ‘Marigolds’ depicts an ordinary guy, Alan, having his packed lunch on a park bench reading the Daily Mail – the front cover bearing the headline ‘RUSSIA COULD CRIPPLE UK’.

First one rather comical spy with dark glasses and coded message tries to engage Alan in espionage-related matters, then another rather obviously Eastern Bloc woman does the same, with the opener “The salmon in the Volga are swimming south”.

Of course there is a final twist – Alan is not what he seems but is, presumably, a ‘sleeper’ assassin. But not before he seeks help from a passerby walking her dog. A real dog , a very well-behaved spaniel, no less. She also turns out to be a Russian spy. A little predictable, but huge fun with some very funny moments. Question: is the dog a spy too?

Overall, the standard of writing, presentation, staging, lighting/sound and acting is superb, just what you would expect from Chesil Theatre. The festival is certainly a labour of love: Deborah says “it takes up more than six months of my life”.

No wonder. It involves preparing rules and forms of the competition, marketing to writers nationally, assembling a panel of readers, reading, writing up reports for each, right through to performance. “But”, she says, “I love it because I am passionate about new writing and showcasing new work.”

The numbers are impressive: over 400 submissions; 31 actors; 10 directors and production teams; four sell-out performances. Unless you were lucky enough to see it, you will have to wait until 2020 for the next 10×10 Writing Festival. I advise you to get your tickets early!