An Oxfordshire theatre group has won the fifth annual Lighthorne Festival of One-Act Plays with a piece of classic theatre – “The Lesson”, by French playwright Eugene Ionesco.
Newcomers Didcot Phoenix Drama Group scored the Festival’s highest-ever marks with their production, directed by Karen Carey.
The still-controversial 1950’s Theatre of The Absurd play – hated by some but hailed as a masterpiece by many – deals with a dysfunctional and disconnected encounter between a youthful pupil and an ageing, lustful professor, which degenerates into violence.
Adjudicator Paul Fowler, national chairman of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators, described it as:” A fiercely intelligent production, directed with confident brio and acted with thrilling pace, wonderful physicality and great attention to the details of this strange and difficult text.”
He also spoke of: “David Cooke as the twitching and ranting professor whose murderous meltdown helped to make Didcot Phoenix’s The Lesson such a powerful experience.”
As winners, Didcot Phoenix picked up a £500 prize – the biggest in British amateur theatre – plus the right to send an identical sum to the registered charity of their choice. They chose Restore, an Oxford-based mental health charity.
They also won a handsome engraved trophy and the right to be considered for the National Drama Festivals Association British All-Winners Finals, to be held at the Lamproom Theatre, Barnsley, next month.
Two groups were joint second – Lighthorne Drama Group with the two-hander, “12hr Life” written by Robert Scott and directed by Victoria Pritchard, and the Mayhem Theatre Group from Halesowen, West Midlands with “The Librarian”, written by Stephen Moran and directed by Linda Evans.
Paul Fowler picked out actors from both plays for special mention.
He said of the two LDG actors: “Alex Kapila and Peter Reynolds, as the strangers drawn together at the station buffet, produced a pair of beautifully matched and sensitive performances whose on-stage chemistry added greatly to this production.”
He praised Ruth Cattell in the title role of “The Librarian” from Mayhem for:”A rich and nuanced performance at the heart of this gripping play.”
June Ronson was singled out: “As the wonderful Marcie in The Allotment – such a calm and detailed performance for Banbury Cross Players.”
Mr Fowler also made special mention of respected Warwickshire actress Susi Walker, who played the ghostly actress Miranda Yolanda in Parlour Hen’s production of “Moving On”, written and directed by former Stratford actress Sarah Campbell.
The adjudicator described it as: “A performance of great dignity from an actress blessed with the most wonderful voice.”
“Moving On”, which came fourth, and “The Librarian” were both also nominated for the George Taylor Award, a competition for new work offered by the National Drama Festivals Association for new plays performed at affiliated Festivals, of which Lighthorne is one.
They were among 12 one-acters performed over the four-night Festival, which is presented cafe-theatre style with a supper served in the intervals and is recognised as being nationally unique.
Lighthorne Festival Chairman Rod Chaytor said:” Didcot achieved the highest mark ever awarded at Lighthorne and the next three groups were all marked at a level which would win many Festivals outright.
“It is tangible proof that the Festival is attracting more and more top-quality groups, encouraging our longer-standing entrants significantly to raise their games, to the benefit of all.”
Next year’s Lighthorne Festival will be held between June 5 – 9, 2018. Preliminary expressions of interest are invited from would-be entrants between now and October 31 this year, with confirmed entries by January 31, 2018.