Durham Drama Festival Preview

With the most anticipated event in the DST calendar kicking off on Wednesday, Palatinate Stage talks to six DDF writers about the inspiration behind their creative efforts:


Site-Specific Night

Mr Sparks and His Nighttime Larks: A Love Story by 

“One day God got angry because humanity wasn’t taking the gift of love seriously enough, so he created Mr. Sparks to make sure nobody ever said “I love you” in vain again. Mr. Sparks comes and visits the first night after you declare your love to another person and judges if your love is true. If it isn’t then he’ll tear your heart from your chest and stop you from ever loving again.”

Stripping it right back, Mr. Sparks and His Nighttime Larks: A Love Story came into being because I wanted to write a play with a character called Mr. Sparks who wore a shiny red suit. So I had a name and an aesthetic and from there I had to create a world for him to occupy. So I began to just write whatever came to mind about Mr. Sparks. Eventually he ended up not just as a character within his universe, but a fundamental aspect of it. He’s a sort of amoral Cupid on steroids, who comes and pays you a visit if you declare your love to another person. And judges whether you truly love somebody or not.

It’s a dark, quirky, melancholic but funny piece that’s been brought to life by some very talented actors. Furthermore, it’s stylistically distinct from a lot of what is put on in Durham. Think of it like Phillip Ridley, but not set in the East End. Hugh Train.


Your Grace by

“Besotted with his new wife Imogen, Eric introduces her to his good friend Joseph who is soon swept into the story of how they first met. Unamused by the romance, Imogen’s sister has a rather different story to tell. Set in the early 20th Century ‘Your Grace’ challenges the importance we place on love, and the reasons why people stay together.”

I don’t like to write for the purpose of broad themes; when I write it’s not to write ‘a play about [x]’ it’s about writing stories and writing about people. I think I’ve just always loved stories, and getting under the skin of a character, and how no one is their first impression. I love being able to play around with how characters are perceived. A lot of the time when I write, it’s drawn from watching TV shows and films. I will get carried away with situating a character in that TV show or film who I think would be interesting, and soon enough their story isn’t related to the original TV show or film at all. I really love period dramas, and despite the setting of Your Grace, I’m pretty sure I got my inspiration from watching Tudor-inspired TV programmes, and giving voice to the less-featured characters. I’d like to think that it’s a period drama with a more modern sensibility in its focus. Despite the fact I’m not in love with the comparison, it’s like Downton Abbey, if it wasn’t so concerned with gratifying an audience and giving everyone their happy ending. Isabelle Culkin.


Auditions by

“Mark has written his own play and thought he was ready to direct it too. What he wasn’t prepared for were the actors that would come through the door (from a melodramatic Shakespeare-addict to an ex-one-night-stand) and the disastrous, yet vastly amusing mishaps that would unfold during the performance. ‘Auditions’ is an extremely meta and self-aware comedy about auditions, plays and everything in between.”

When it came to a submission for DDF 2016, I really wanted something that was purely fun to write, fun to perform and fun to watch. With Whistles (DDF 2015) I put so much thought into deeper meanings and morals that this time around I wanted to do the complete opposite, and as far as the writing goes, there’s not supposed to be any deeper meaning involved in ‘Auditions’ at all. If some audience members find some, that’s great too, but it was only intended to be a comedy with some meta-theatrical fun. Sorry, lots of meta-theatrical fun. Let’s hope we can all have a good laugh at ourselves. Hamish Clayton.

Tickets have now sold out, but will be available on the door on a “first come, first served” basis.


Black Box

Small Hours by

“Two friends are chatting late into the night, as they often do, stuck in the endless cycle of determining whether they actually want a cup of tea. The girls know each other inside out, but as the hours tick by it becomes clear that something is amiss. ‘Small Hours’ explores relationships, memory, and how we use others to construct our identities.”

Small Hours started off in my mind as quite different from the finished piece. I wanted to write a play which had female characters speaking frankly, honestly and humorously about things such as sex and abortion, as I do with my friends. I originally wrote the play without assigning lines to either character. As the conversation developed, so did the relationship between them, and the idea for a dramatic ‘twist’ which we’ve kept mainly under wraps. It’s been a pleasure working with two brilliant actors and finding the right dynamic of very non-naturalistic staging with very naturalistic dialogue. I hope people will see it as a warm piece about the joys of close friendships, with a few penis jokes thrown in for good measure! Anna Jeary.


Brand Flakes by

“An ensemble comedy about the creation of a new cereal brand. The three-man marketing team must come up with the concept to pitch to Kellogg’s. There’s not a lot of love in the room, towards both cereal and each other. It would probably be a good idea to switch to toast and call it a day.”

The play is (hopefully!) really funny and light hearted. We’ve got a fantastic cast who bring to life the narcissistic characters and witty dialogue. I wanted to try comedy writing and DDF provided the perfect opportunity. Not that I’m trying to compare the quality of the writing, but a big inspiration on the play’s sense of humour is the classic Seinfeld motto “no hugging, no learning.” Kate Lipton.


The Lizards by

“Every generation has its One Directions and its Westlifes. The Lizards aren’t one of them. They’re a barely functioning boy band whose only successful single is five years old. Now, they have a final chance at success: Reading Festival. But with only a few hours left till they go onstage, can the band—and their manager—keep it together long enough to prove themselves to the world? Or will bad blood and old ghosts push them over the edge?”

The real thanks for the inspiration behind The Lizards have to go to my housemate Abbie. She told me about her experience of coming across a former X Factor boy band doing an impromptu performance at Tesco’s in her hometown. After I’d finished laughing at them, I thought to myself “that’s an entire story right there.” Yet the process of writing the script was tough, far more than the one I’d written for last year’s DDF. The process of researching the musical background, shaping the characters, drawing them all together into a coherent narrative and toying around with staging ideas had me stuck for ages. While my initial impulse was to satirise boy bands and their music, I realised that by approaching that lifestyle with some empathy, it could create a more poignant and engaging story. Parts were exhilarating to write, others were draining—but with an absurdly talented cast bringing the words to life, I can only look forward to seeing it on stage, and I hope audiences will enjoy it!

Tickets have now sold out, but will be available on the door on a “first come, first served” basis.


The Assembly Rooms

The Princes’ Quest, music and lyrics by Henry Winlow, book by Sophie McQuillan

“The classic musical fairy-tale—or is it? Split between the real world and the magical land of Evergreen, this story is full of songs, sass and silliness. Two princes are in search of love and the princess needs saving from her tower. But do they really want their cliché happy endings?”


Check Your Hair Mate by

“Nothing much happens in the village of Little Humping and even less in the local village hairdressers. Nothing much, that is, until German World Chess Champion Fritz Zugszwang happens to come in for a trim whilst on holiday and mistakes local fisher Bobby for Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess players to have ever lived. Featuring quirky characters, chess puns in abundance, mystery, intrigue, love triangles and controlled levels of nudity.”


One Small Step by Rohan Perumatantri

“When Steph wanted to build a rocket, Euston had to hold the glue stick. When Steph attempted her first space walk, Euston had to be the one to carry her. When Euston was bullied, Steph was the first to pick him up. And now that Steph is dying, well that doesn’t really change anything.

‘One Small Step’ follows Steph and her brother Euston after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Unable to escape physically she turns to the games of her childhood and attempts to fulfil her greatest dream—to become the first woman on the moon.”

See all three plays from Thur 11th-Fri 12th Feb. Book your tickets here. Limited availability. 

Photograph: Samuel Kirkman

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