Preview: Durham Drama Festival 2019

By Martha Wrench

The Durham Drama Festival returns for its 45th year this month, presenting a selection of student-written plays and extracts. With previous productions having made it all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe, DDF is an exciting opportunity for all involved. This year, the festival promises to be better than ever with over one hundred people involved in nine full-length plays and five extracts, all written, produced, designed, directed, and performed by members of DST.


With previous productions having made it all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe, DDF is an exciting opportunity for all involved.

The General Programme runs from the 6th-9th February, showcasing the talents of nine student writers, most of whom this is the first time their written work has been performed. The programme promises great variation with plays such as ‘Whatever Happened to Christopher Robin?’ providing great dramatic release, and light-hearted wit being presented in productions such as ‘Save the Date’. Indeed, it is the first time in a while that a musical has been included in the DDF programme. Ollie Kirkwood’s musical, ‘Save the Date’, advertises itself as fun and upbeat following the lives of singles all experiencing the wonders of online dating. I talked to the musical director of this production, Honor Halford-Macleod, about her entrance into the world of DDF and her experience of student writing.

Have you been involved in DDF before? What attracted you to getting involved this year?

I’ve never been involved in DDF before, but this year I was especially keen to have an involvement because I saw that a new musical had been written by a Durham student, so I was especially keen to be part of the process.  I really like contemporary musicals and I had heard that Ollie’s writing is really good so I knew I wanted to be part of the team. It’s really lovely and so valuable to see a new musical come to life!

You’ve musical directed before in Durham, how does this differ? Are there any different approaches you take when confronting a student-written production?

One big way in which this differs is that there are no recordings of the show on Spotify or anything, so the initial note learning process is so important. It can take longer but it’s valuable to be thorough in the first stages of the learning because you can’t just rely on a recording to memorise it.  Another way is that, because this show is new writing, it is still growing and being developed every day and so there is more freedom about changing pitches and registers of notes if they don’t quite fit the cast member’s range. The writing is not necessarily set in stone so it’s nice to have that flexibility. 

Why should people come and see it?

The characters are normal people who have varied experiences with online dating, and it’s very funny and enjoyable. The composer, Ollie Kirkwood, has done an amazing job with giving each of the characters varied material and the writing is in times very conversational and candid but also in times melodic and broader so it’s really interesting to listen to.  It’s a nice length too so you can get your musical fix without being sat there for hours! The cast are brilliant as well, and they’ve worked very hard on learning the piece from scratch which is no mean feat!


The characters are normal people who have varied experiences with online dating, and it’s very funny and enjoyable.

Aside from the student-written productions, DDF also offers students great opportunities through the form of workshops given by experienced professionals. This year, they have managed to secure Alex Bhat, an actor who has worked on stage and screen for the BBC and Channel 4 in shows such as ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Chewing Gum; Peter Bradley, a freelance theatre director currently working as a Resident Director for the RSC’s Summer Season; and Geof Keys, artistic director of The Queen’s Hall Arts in Hexham. These workshops look set to be exciting opportunities for those who manage to bag a place.

DDF’s General Programme runs from the 6th-9th February in Caedmon Hall and the Mark Hillery Arts Centre in Collingwood College. Be sure to buy your tickets before they sell out. Who knows, you may be seeing the work of the next biggest playwright.

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