Twelfth annual Writefest at the Progress Theatre

A Little Nibble. Photo (c) Richard Brown courtesy of the Progress Theatre

The Progress Theatre are presenting a sumptuous smorgasbord of superb drama this week in their 12th Annual Writefest, showcasing the best of local writing in six short plays.

A Little Nibble, written by the talented John Goodman and skilfully directed by Sarah Pearce, enticed us into the evening with a stirringly patriotic sound track and matching decor, complete with Union Jack bulldog cushions. We meet the over solicitous hausfrau Theresa (insinuatingly played by Jane Hardcastle) and the bemused Caroline (a robust performance by Beckie Moir) who have befriended each other on a bus ride. The latter becomes increasingly uncomfortable as Theresa displays a worrying bigotry and gruesomely describes a zombie epidemic. The smoking gun is about to be fired with the arrival of Philip, the husband (a brief but telling cameo by Peter Chamberlain), a superb and unexpected twist; you will be riveted!

Pen. Photo (c) Richard Brown courtesy of the Progress Theatre

Pen by the insightful Ian Petrie and sensitively directed by Jake Willett and Ali Carroll is a poignant love story seen from the end of civilisation; it demonstrates the enduring power of the pen and the transient nature of technology. This touching tale centres around the love letters between Jack (heart-wrenchingly played by Debarshi Bandyopadhyay) and Vera his wife (charmingly played by Heather Eley), a correspondence enduring even after her death and the advent of the iPad and lovingly stowed by his grandaughter Anna (a delightful performance by Lisa Gorman) in a simple wooden box. We return to the starting point, where she shares these precious and tangible memories with the aptly named orphan Hope (sensitively portrayed by Heather Eley) and we were left with a feeling of redemption and hopefulness.

The Last Bus. Photo (c) Richard Brown courtesy of the Progress Theatre

A crackling radio invites us to instant redemption or damnation as purgatory closes down in Alison Hill’s darkly comedic The Last Bus (deftly directed by Matthew Beswick). We meet the desultory couple Angela (reflectively played by Ali Carroll) and Howard (the subtly sinister Peter Chamberlain) squeezing the last drop of tea out of the pot and seemingly their bleak relationship as they wait for the Last Bus to… ? The jaunty entrance of the nautical Philip (played by the irrepressible Paul Gallantry) lifts the sombre mood. Angela is not the respectable wife we imagine; they reminisce over their illicit affair and she is tempted to sail off into the sunset with him, but she is drawn back to the controlling Howard. The lights dim and the radio crackle intensifies as they miss the Last Bus…

If It Be Now. Photo (c) Richard Brown courtesy of the Progress Theatre

If it be Now by Marie French is a chilling drama tautly directed by Trevor Dale. The two warring protagonists are Beth (a strongly emotional performance by Jann Arrell) and Mike (a jaw droppingly powerful Debarshi Bandyopadhyay) whose highly charged and emotive exchange bring us to the edge of our seats. Perhaps the only option is to remove the predator who threatens them but how far are they prepared to go? As their plans progress, it seems that Mike may be left to shoulder the risks while Beth and her son edge away towards safety.

Buried. Photo (c) Richard Brown courtesy of the Progress Theatre

Buried is a reflective play inspired by events in Reading Prison, written by Matthew Beswick and sensitively directed by Ant Appleby. It opens onto a fairy-lit bedstead where Elias (a remarkable performance by Dean Stephenson) and his female alter ego Jenna (strongly played by Robyn Kingston) recline in comfort. We witness Elias’ struggle to accept his true identity despite increasing pressure from his partner Bel (movingly played by Lisa Gorman) to conform to the role imposed by fatherhood. A cameo appearance by Bel’s dad (a macho hi-vis jacket moment provided by Paul Gallantry) reminds us that Elias’ path is fraught with conflict.

Fairy tails. Photo (c) Richard Brown courtesy of the Progress Theatre

Fairy Tails is a whimsical, fairy-dusted tale of enchantment and love by Debra Evitts, charmingly directed by Penny Wenham. It features three mediaeval damsels, the hardened Old (a performance of steely backbone by Alison Hill), the retiring Shy (demurely yet robustly played by Stephanie Gunner) and the hilariously garrulous Foreigner (delightfully and voluptuously played by Beckie Moir). They exchange fanciful banter on the themes of romantic love and the slaying of ogres and dragons while they toy with their fairy iPads, occasionally accessing Glitter!

The evening was a huge theatrical triumph. The prodigiously talented local writers are to be congratulated on a wonderful evening’s entertainment.

‘Writefest’ runs at the Progress Theatre, The Mount, Reading RG1 5HL until Saturday 9 September. Tickets can be bought online or by telephone on 0118 384 2169.

  1. The Progress Theatre website and Facebook page
  2. ‘Writefest’ at the Progress Theatre
  3. Progress Theatre tickets