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Watermill - Raising Voices Again

13th to 18th September 2004.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Taste of theatre to come

Raising Voices Again, at The Watermill, from Monday, September 13 to Saturday, September 18

Following the success of last year's Raising Voices, The Watermill launched another search for new writers for the stage. More than 60 entries were received from all cultures and backgrounds and a shortlist of six was selected for a rehearsed reading followed by an opportunity for the audience to discuss the play with the writer, director and actors.

Each of the writers worked with a professional director and actors meeting on the day at 10am and performing at 7.30pm in the evening - quite a daunting task. All credit to the cast and directors for bringing such a professional 'voice' to the writers' work. I managed to see three of the plays and thoroughly enjoyed them.

• Frank Hatt's Help Yourself was an exposé of the gurus of the self-help programmes. Derek has a dull but steady job as a librarian and, while eating lunch in the local park, is accosted by a passing jogger. It turns out to be a university friend from 15 years ago. Chas has transformed himself from the old dippy drummer in a band, having heard an 'inspirational speaker'.

He convinces Derek not to return to the library and sets about being his personal coach, trying to change his life, much to the horror of his teacher wife, Sue. Chas moves in to the household and starts to take over their lives but Sue sees through this charlatan with some hilarious results. This was a play with a solid message told with humour and resonance.

A Conspiracy of Furniture by Polly Wiseman also explores family relationships with a dry, black humour. The mother of the family has died. The daughter has removed all the furniture to the basement and has regressed into another world locked in downstairs with the furniture. Meanwhile the father has brought the coffin into the sitting room and is waiting for the family to arrive for the wake.

The son arrives back from VSO work and desperately tries to bring some order to this chaotic mad situation in which the Mother's spirit haunts them and the infidelity of the husband and the breakdown of the family relationships over the years are revealed.

Great fun with some wonderful character observations wrapped up in a tightly-woven plot. Splendid stuff.

• It was Josephine Carter's second appearance at The Watermill, having had a play performed last year. Her Chalk and Cheese is a wonderful exploration of disparate characters and their relationships. Alicia has moved into a new house belonging to her husband who is serving a prison sentence for fraud. Shirley is her next door neighbour. A busybody who calls to make friends. They are poles apart in social class. Alicia wants to be left alone and certainly does not want to make friends with the likes of Shirley. However, Shirley is persistent and both women find
that they can mutually support each other in more ways than one. The past tenant of the house turns out to be the mistress of Alicia's husband, and so the plot thickens as the women plot to get their revenge. This was a wonderful play that left you wanting to know whether they succeeded and what happens next. There must be a sequel.

There were no prizes this year but each of the plays has had the opportunity to be staged as work in progress and gave the writers the chance to hear their words voiced by actors. Well done The Watermill.


• The three other productions, which were obviously of an equally high standard, were The Weatherman's Harvest by Adrienne Howell, directed by Patricia England, Bringing Up Baby, by Jill Haas, directed by Tom Daley, and Harmony, by Helen Goldwyn, directed by Andy Brereton.