Playwrights honoured at St Albans’ Abbey Theatre

PLAYWRITING talent showed itself in abundance last week at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans where 10 new plays went head to head for three awards.

The Festival of New Playwriting was the Abbey Theatre’s contribution to the St Albans Festival and audiences throughout the week were riveted by a variety of plays which were adjudicated by actor, writer and director Philip Osment who involved the audience on the four nights of the heats in his deliberations.

His choice of the winning plays in each category were performed again on Saturday night in front of an appreciative audience, many of whom had come along during the week as well.

Perhaps the most amazing achievement was that of 15-year-old Katie Smith whose play, Famous Island, won the award for the Best Play by a Playwright Under 25.

An intriguing and clever idea, it tells how when tax changes and divorce laws conspire against an unsuspecting millionaire, there is only one option left.

He is advised to have his death faked and be transported to a secret tropical destination called Famous Island where celebrities and the rich live out the rest of their lives in peace away from the real world.

There are several twists and turns along the way with the play bringing together real-life and fictional characters in a fantasy world which, at times, becomes almost believable.

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The standard of writing Katie demonstrated was exemplary, particularly for one so young – here is a youngster with a great future.

Jan Haniff took the award for the Best Performance of a Play in the Festival with Four-Fifths of a Fiver, which tells how a reunion after 25 years goes sour as more and more is discovered about the missing member of their number, Simon, who has died.

It is great theatre – very funny in places with an interesting mix of characters who clearly have little left in common a quarter of a century after leaving university.

Casting Brian Leveson as one of their number Ada was an inspired move while Lester Adams as the geeky Mike was hilarious. Jo Emery’s Caroline, the rich bitch who loves herself more than any of her former friends, was a discerning portrayal by an accomplished actress.

The third award in memory of former Company of Ten actor and playwright Tony Sidoli who died last year went to Ian Jordan’s clever play, The Man at the Door.

Set in a flat in St Albans, it tells the story of struggling young writer Rich and the “man at the door” Jay who turns up out of the blue when he car breaks down. The unlikely friendship between the two starts to impact on Rich’s girlfriend Abby – but is the camaraderie between the two a genuine friendship or material for new work?

The play within a play concept is nothing new yet The Man at the Door is not only thought-provoking but also gives an interesting view of the stages of creativity and what sparks them.

Presenting the awards, Abbey Theatre chairman Paul Davidson thanked all the playwrights for “baring their creative souls” and the actors who took part. He also praised Philip Osment as, “a brilliant adjudicator who gave time to read, assess and comment on each play.”