Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies
FEATS is a member of the National Drama Festivals Association
 

FEATS Newsletter June 2002

 

Sorry for the slight delay in getting this post-FEATS Newsletter out: some house renovation followed by some stage managing got in the way. However, hope you all arrived home safely after a busy and fun weekend in Brussels. With sunshine, no less! It was good to see so many of the “old faithfuls”, as well as some new faces, which, we hope will soon join the ranks of the old faithfuls. There was, as ever, lots of good, if this year, not always vintage, theatre and plenty of fun fringe performances. A new event this year was “Featlets”, where the future generation of FEATS participants showed their talents. Reassuring to see young people enjoying theatre work so much! On Saturday a goodly number enjoyed a simple but tasty and copious “Ploughman’s-type” supper party in the foyer of the theatre after the shows. What was really appreciated by many was that normal conversation was possible for those not dancing, given the disco music was confined to the Fringe area. A big “Thank you” to Diana and her large team of yellow-topped helpers, who came in from all parts and helped the whole weekend run so smoothly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And for those of you who were not able to attend, or maybe did not manage to hear the names of the winners, given the shouts of joy from their supporters, here is the list:

Kast Cup for Best Production The Hamburg Players Foxtales

Mervyn Briscoe Award, 2nd Place In Players, Amsterdam The Vagina Monologues

Wedgwood Trophy, 3rd Place AATG, The Hague Bad Taste

Grand Duchy Award for Best Set CATS, Rheindalen The Droitwich Discovery

Verulam Award: Best Original Script ACTS, Stuttgart S.Marlowe

Antony Cornish Discretionary Award The Semi Circle, Basel A. Tobler, director

“Blackie” for Best Actor ATC, Brussels Richard Foxon,

“Blackie” for Best Actress AATG, The Hague Vivien Price

Marcel Huhn-Bruno Boeye Trophy The Semi Circle, Basel for Stage Management

Our thanks go to Barbara Blackwell for the gift of the new "Blackie" awards for best actor and actress which she has presented in memory of her late husband, E.A. “Blackie”, who was for many years one of the leading lights in the FEATS community.

As I had been inveigled into joining the previously-mentioned yellow-topped helpers – something to do with having been, in a former existence, a member of several of the Brussels groups – I farmed out the writing of crits of the plays to other play-goers. So, my thanks to Sandra Vathauer, John Stevens and Gill Atkinson for their contributions.

FEATS 2002 opened in Brussels on Friday night with the reading of a short story entitled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge written by Ambrose Bierce. This contribution was out of competition. Two groups had withdrawn from the festival at the last moment so that the English Comedy Club of Brussels agreed to step into the breach. It should be emphasized, however, that the narrator despite his slight throat trouble gave us a well-paced and impressive reading of this short story so that nobody in the audience was able to regard the contribution merely as a stopgap. It is set in the Civil War in America and recounts the thoughts and feelings of the hero, a plantation owner from the South, who already wearing a noose around his neck is awaiting his execution by Federal soldiers of the North. The thrilling story captures the attention of the audience right through to the surprise ending. This was a most original and entertaining beginning to the festival.

The actual FEATS competition opened with an original script by Graham Andrews, The Man who met His Maker, performed by the American Theater Company of Brussels. Dr. Anton Lindenbrook, a stereotype Viennese psychiatrist with very few patients on his books is delighted when his secretary, the far- from- prim Nurse Primm, ushers in a seemingly interesting new patient Mr. Singleton, until he discovers that this pathetic looking gentleman, Tod Singleton is convinced that he "made the World" only a few decades ago and is now being pursued and threatened because of the responsibility he bears for this World. He feels he is being made to shrink, a fact beautifully displayed by the clothes he wears which are several sizes too large for him. A debate on the credibility of Singleton`s belief ensues between doctor and patient with the psychiatrist being unable to dissuade his patient. On the contrary Lindenbrook is informed that it would be his mission to make a new world should Singleton be killed. The sexy Nurse Primm – a very stylish performance here – witnesses the traffic accident which kills Singleton and we are left with the memorable final scene of an empty stage illuminated by psychedelic lights and Lindenbrook desperately contemplating on the gigantic task confronting him. The role of the patient was superbly acted - the actor winning the prize for Best Actor.

The last contribution on Friday night, The Brussels Shakespeare Society’s All’s Well that Ends as You Like It by Michael Green was actually a play within a play, showing a local amateur theatre group staging a play for a village fete. These amateur actors were supposed to make a mess of their lines and actions and produce complete havoc in this medley of Shakespearean plays and characters. They certainly succeeded in this and there was many a laugh from the audience. However, as the adjudicator pointed out later on, one should have had the feeling that these amateurs were seriously trying to act their parts well, but did not have the talent to do so. Instead there was a general impression that nobody was really trying, but that a good time was had by all in romping through the scenes. There was too much overshooting the mark.

The In Players International, Amsterdam, opened Saturday night with dramatized excerpts from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, in which women talk about – yes – their vaginas. This was an accomplished performance, well directed, well staged and well acted. A hairdressing salon with a predominantly red-and-black décor was created as a unifying setting for what originally were completely separate pieces. In this setting women communicated their sometimes hilarious, often painful, at times horrifying vaginal experiences, including childhood abuse and wartime gang-rape, but closing with a woman’s cathartic experience of childbirth and the union of vagina and heart.

The Semi-Circle, Basel, followed with an original piece called Guts, in a production which somewhat baffled both the adjudicator and the audience. A middle-aged couple, George and Nancy, are grounded by a tornado at a Mid-Western airport on their way to marriage counselling. They meet two other passengers, Bill, a musician, and Debbie, a would-be actress, who, it transpires, is the daughter Nancy gave up for adoption as a teenage mother. The airport waiting lounge was created as a fenced-in area (perhaps suggesting a prison?), the actors were directed to speak straight out to the audience, with white make-up (suggesting ???). The action was commented on by an androgynous figure (perhaps the guardian angel Debbie believed in as a child?). Overall a not entirely successful production that left the audience and the adjudicator wondering what the play was really about.

Saturday evening closed with CATS Rheindahlen’s production of Nick Warburton’s The Droitwich Discovery. An unsuspecting group of tourists, expecting to view Shakespeare’s birthplace, find themselves in a loft in Droitwich, where the ghost of Terry Shakespeare appears, and regales them with excerpts from his plays, which his brother the Bard stole from him and adapted. For example, The Estate Agent of Venice with the game show "What’s in the Casket?" The play is silly, with some pretty dubious gags, but the performance could have been a good rollick, had it not been marred by the lead role’s repeated need of prompting, and a general lack of movement, and sometimes pace, on the stage. The costumes were convincing, and the set beautifully created, earning the CATS team a round of applause as the curtain opened. But from then on the performance went downhill.

Sunday evening opened with Wanda’s Visit, part of Durang Durang, by Christopher Durang. The life of Jim and Marsha, a married couple in a bit of a rut, is turned upside down by the arrival of Wanda, an ex-schoolmate of Jim’s with a chequered and, of late, shady life history. She goes for Jim, antagonizing Marsha, but the couple are eventually rescued by the arrival of gangsters from whom Wanda was on the run. This was an accomplished production by Tagora, Strasbourg, offering great entertainment with some wonderful moments of comedy, but also a touch of poignancy at the end. The characters were vividly brought to life in some very fine acting, the staging matched the surreal atmosphere of the piece. This was high-quality theatre.

It was the first time at FEATS (apart from a fringe appearance last year) for ACTS from Stuttgart. They came with a highly topical original play dealing with issues such as anti-globalization, political asylum, people smuggling, the conflict in Palestine. The play, however, wanted to do too much: the political and social messages crammed into just 50 minutes of theatre remained unconvincing, the characters adaptational, the action forced. Unfortunately too, the acting, staging and directing left much to be desired. But this after all was a first-time appearance for a young group. The adjudicator gave clear but kind direction on how to set about improvements.

The Hamburg Players closed Sunday evening’s programme with a magnificent performance of Foxtales, a musical Adaptation of Aesop’s Fables by Charles Pascoe. The piece was performed on a bare stage, but the group brought a passion and creativity to their task that made set and props unnecessary. The scenes were beautifully choreographed and played with great energy, the directors enhancing the action with a wealth of lovely little details. This was excellent entertainment, and theatre of a professional standard.

Monday saw the last evening of this year’s FEATS. The evening began with a performance of Darlings You Were Wonderful, a play by Derek Lomas and performed by BATS, Antwerp. This was a fun little piece to which, I think, we could all relate as it was set backstage before a theatre performance. The play itself was light and fluffy and quite entertaining. There were some lovely little snippets of acting particularly, I felt, by Ruth England playing the nervous Irene. However the performance generally lacked the pace and cue bite needed to give it a real sparkle. None-the-less, it was enjoyable and BATS did a good job considering this was a last-minute ’fill a space’ entry.

We then moved on to Bad Taste, an original script written by Barratt Wilson and performed by AATG, The Hague. The ’package tour’ night in the city slums, certainly an original theme, was very well written, acted and produced. The play held my attention throughout as the slum characters revealed to the tourists how they arrived in their predicament. One really could not guess who was the real slum dweller and who the actor working for the tourist board. All the actors were strong and it was no surprise when Vivienne Price, in the role of Scum, walked away at the end of the evening with the ’Blackie’ for Best Actress.

The last play of the evening was The Spelling of Coynes, written by Jules Tasca and performed by FEST, Frankfurt. What a lovely piece to the end the festival! This dark comedy was highly entertaining, very funny and very nicely staged. The lengths some people will go to get their hands on money is amazing and the deeper into deception Louie dug himself, the funnier the play became. The play was interwoven with wonderful "golden oldie" snippets of music which had me (and my neighbours - and probably most, if not all, of the audience) wanting to sing along. Although FEST did not win any prizes or receive any nominations, they certainly entertained the audience.

**********************

The FEATS Forum was attended on the Sunday afternoon by a very small and select group. Was this because you are all extremely happy with the way things are in FEATS? Or did the good weather win out? The first item discussed was the non-award of the Stage Management Cup at FEATS 2001 as Dympna felt it was important to explain the exact reasonings behind this decision. Of the twelve participating groups, three stage crews were ’good’, three ’very good’ and three ’outstanding’. At the end of the weekend two of the three ’outstanding’ crews were disqualified because of infringement of rules and the third on a question of safety. As safety had been of prime importance at FEATS 2001, given the fact that there had been a back-stage accident the previous year, it was felt that this third crew could not be awarded the cup. The FEATS stage management team decided, therefore, not to award the Marcel Huhn-Bruno Boeye Award. They did not take the decision lightly, but, given the excellence of stage management practised by Marcel and Bruno, in whose memory the award was endowed, they could not give it to any but an excellent crew.

The second item was regarding the numbers of groups performing at FEATS. In the past couple of years the organisers have had a problem in finding twelve groups, as one or more has pulled out at fairly short notice. Discussion took place as to whether FEATS should be taken back to three nights - e.g. Saturday to Monday - again, or left as the four nights with only two plays on one night. Were the latter solution to be taken up, the problem would be, which night should only have the two performances: the first to allow everyone to make the performances; party night so that more people would come to the party, or the last night. There are pros and cons to each of these. However, it was suggested that there would have to be an adjustment to ticket prices as it would not be fair to expect someone coming in off the street to pay the same amount for a two-play, as for a three-play evening. It was agreed to make no final decision but wait to see if the trend continues.

The final item was to inform FEATS-goers about the next few festivals.

FEATS 2003, hosted by FEST, Frankfurt, will take place in Bad Homburg during the ASCENSION Weekend, Thursday 29th May - Sunday 1st June 2003. The change of weekend was necessary because of a scheduling problem at the theatre. Our Adjudicator will be GODA Chairman, Rex Walford.

FEATS 2004, with BATS as our hosts will be at the Arenburg Schouwburg Antwerp, with Colin Dolley as Adjudicator.

Then, we are delighted to announce that for FEATS 2005 we shall be travelling to a new venue just outside Hamburg. The Hamburg Players, winners of FEATS 2002, will be celebrating their 40th Anniversary and have asked to organise the Festival.

More news of all these coming festivals will be published in future newsletters.