High Tide’s still rising

HighTide Festival's artistic director Steven Atkinson

HighTide Festival's artistic director Steven Atkinson - Credit: Archant

Suffolk’s leading theatre festival, High Tide, is attracting theatregoers from around the country. Andrew Clarke spoke to artistic director Steven Atkinson about this year’s line-up


hightide - Credit: Archant

HighTide, the new writing theatre festival based in Halesworth, marks its eighth anniversary this year with a dazzling programme that not only showcases rising young talent but will bring the former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company to the county.

The festival has swiftly grown into one of the leading theatre events in the country and has helped swing a national spotlight on Suffolk, boosting tourism and the county’s creative economy.

Steven Atkinson, HighTide’s founder and artistic director, said that the 2014 programme balanced a desire to see previous writers return to continue their journey up the theatre ladder and a need to offer talented new faces an opportunity to break into the business.

Steven and his team have had to read close to a thousand scripts to come up with the four world premieres they will be staging this year and will be hosting rehearsed readings of a further three new works and a revue of new plays submitted as part of the Escalator: East To Edinburgh project.

A production at HighTide does help launch careers. This year HighTide world premiere, Peddling by Harry Melling, has already secured a production slot at New York’s 59E59 theatre before an actor has set foot on stage.

“Melling is such an innovative, amazing actor. He’s doing some great classical roles but he’s probably best known for playing Dudley in the Harry Potter films. But his play is about the 4,000 people who sleep rough on the streets of London each night and asks the question: Is it right to ignore then and let them get on with it? Or are we creating a much bigger problem further down the road?

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“He imagines what their lives must be like. He plays a homeless man and it is written in this unique, completely engaging way and I had never read anything like it before and when he performs it, you are aware that this is a major actor giving a major performance and this is why New York agreed to take it before its first public performance because the quality of it was so high.”

He said that they were equally thrilled by the fact that they have former RSC director Michael Boyd bringing Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal to Suffolk to have its European premiere.

“Michael Boyd is one of the best theatre directors in the country, so to have him working in Halesworth is just so exciting. To have such a major director tackling such an ambitious, incredibly successful play, direct from America, it’s just breathtaking.

“Lots of people wanted to stage it but we got in there first, so we’re really excited by that and it reflects the quality and the standing that HighTide now has that it can compete with the best events around the country.

“Just as Snape attracts the world’s best musicians, we want to attract the world’s best theatre-makers to Suffolk.” Among these is playwright Nick Payne who contributed Switzerland and The Pitch to HighTide in 2008.

“Since his first HighTide appearance he has gone on to conquer the world. He has a play running in New York with Jake Gyllenhaal and Constellations, a play which premiered at The Royal Court earlier this year, starring Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins, is transferring to the West End. He’s still only 28 and yet he is very definitely the man of the moment. We invited him back to HighTide because its good to see how a writer develops. He’s a very different person now and it’s good to see how he continues to evolve as a writer, to allow us to follow his development.”

This year’s play, Incognito, delves into Albert Einstein’s brain and it combines neuroscience with theatre. It’s fun, engaging, it’s clever and ambitious and it’s terribly theatrical. It will be a good night for all.”

The fourth premiere of this year’s festival is The Girl’s Guide To Saving The World by first time writer Elinor Cook, who Steven believes is ‘one to watch.’ Elinor’s play is described as a warm comedy about feminism today and how you manage the eternal battle between career and family life.

High Tide will be staged from April 10-19. For full details go to www. hightide.org.uk