The Inspirational Ink Festival goes on the road

PUBLISHED: 12:50 15 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:08 15 April 2019

Julia Sowerbutts, artistic director Ink Festival

Julia Sowerbutts, artistic director Ink Festival

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Jan Etherington reports on this year’s event showcasing East Anglian writers and plays which is now going on a two-week East Anglian tour


This is the fifth year of the Ink Festival and after a sell-out last year, the two days have become a jam-packed three days, with world premieres of short stage and radio plays, films and musicals and children's events, at The Cut, Halesworth, and now it's taking to the road.

I've followed the progress of this vibrant event from the beginning, when my friend Julia Sowerbutts announced she was starting a festival to showcase East Anglian writers. As artistic director, Julia struggled that first year to get enough plays submitted. Ink was new, unfamiliar, in a county where arts festivals abound and competition is fierce.

This year, with 350 new play submissions, the bar was set high and only 44 plays got through to performance. The word is out that Ink is the place to go, for East Anglian writers and for those who want to see the best new work by homegrown talent.

A handful of plays have been selected for Ink On The Road, a two-week East Anglian tour, from April 18-28, followed by a London transfer to The Tristan Bates Theatre, May 6-18, at The Actors Centre, Ink's new partners in developing and promoting new plays and playwrights. Tristan Bates was the son of actor Alan Bates and died young. An interesting link is that, just before his death, the actor Alan Bates officially opened The Cut at Halesworth. Julia now has a strong creative team, led by associate directors Jane Zarins and James Christopher and has signed up The Inkredibles, a quartet of extremely well-known locals – Shappi Khorsandi, Greg Mosse, Paul Heiney and Scarlett Curtis, who each submitted a five-minute play on a single theme – wellingtons. They are joined by a mini-Inkredible, 14-year-old Abi Kemp, from Alde Valley School in Leiston, who quite by chance wrote a play about wellingtons, e included in the Inkredibles event.

Paul HeineyPaul Heiney

There's a children's programme, which includes A Play in a Day, in which children write, produce and perform a play at the festival. And for the first time, an art exhibition and sale, featuring local artists creating work, appropriately in ink, inspired by theatre.

There are workshops, including one on dramatic scriptwriting, with Greg Mosse, talks and Q&As with Richard Curtis on film, and Robin Brooks on adaptation. There are performance poets led by Ink patron Luke Wright, and comedy from hilarious stand-up Shappi Khorsandi. Greg Mosse has also written an hour-long musical, Lady of Jazz, and local writer Wally Smith has penned a play about the last man to be hanged in Suffolk, for murdering a policeman. But did he do it? Eight plays are performed as rehearsed readings (with scripts) under the title LabPlays.

Ink's influence has spilled out in all directions. Their Pen to Performance Project encourages young people in local schools to develop their creative writing skills. They are extending this project to Golden Age, helping senior citizens to express their experiences and emotions, through the writing of short plays.

Ink is a charity and possibly the only festival in the country to feature radio plays. It has attracted Paul Schlesinger, BBC Radio producer and director of BBC TV's W1A, Tim Bentinck (David Archer, in The Archers) and actresses Helen Atkinson-Wood and Jill Freud in leading roles. A radio highlight features the welcome return of one of the most popular events from last year, a radio play featuring the work of Peg Lynch, known as 'the woman who invented sitcom'. An American contemporary of Lucille Ball, Peg wrote, produced and starred in her own domestic comedy series, Ethel & Albert. Her daughter, Walberswick resident Astrid Ronning, will be taking her mother's role of Ethel in a newly discovered comedy script from her mother's archive.

Luke WrightLuke Wright

The plays are performed several times over the three days, by an ensemble cast of more than 40 professional actors and directors, in six venues at The Cut, Halesworth, and there's a separate ticketed event on the Saturday night, with comedian Shappi Khorsandi.

Julia Sowerbutts admits there have been tough times and funding crises but she couldn't be happier with the success of Ink.

“Hundreds of actors want to perform here and it's amazing what wonderful and varied offers of help we have had,” she says. “It's a very expensive event to mount and, although we have small arts grants, we will always welcome sponsors and are enormously grateful to everyone who supports us.

“We especially thank the Halesworth Volvo garage, MR King, who also offer us some rehearsal space. This year, we have two extra performance spaces and two cafes. The success of Ink for me has been life changing and life saving. If I'm having a tough time, I just pick up a pile of scripts and get lost in the wonderful words of our talented writers.”

Scarlett CurtisScarlett Curtis

To book tickets & for more information about Ink on the Road go to: or call: 01986 872555

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