“HighTide has always been clear about what it exists to do: to debut plays by new playwrights that are about our world and how we understand it.”
You can’t argue with Steven Atkinson, Artistic Director of the young but fearless HighTide. This month marks the beginning of the 5th HighTide Festival, in which four new shows will be presented along with other performances, workshops, debates, readings and screenings, all against the idyllic backdrop of the charming old market town of Halesworth.
Theatre and poetry fans alike will no doubt be excited to learn that one of the four headliners will be Andrew Motion’s debut play, Incoming. Steven decided to commission a poet to write a play partly with the aim of raising the profile of poetry through theatre. “Andrew was top of my list,” he explains, “I was surprised and thrilled when he responded favourably. Perhaps even more surprising – he already had a story to base the play on: the death of Rupert Thornloe.”
High regard for different forms seems to have been a bit of a theme in the selection of this year’s programme. Nicked – a response to the current coalition government – is the company’s first venture into the world of musical theatre, a medium Steven admires for its ability to “articulate complex ideas through an immediate and entertaining form. Nicked is a prime example of this.” He argues that the musical provides thought-provoking debate around AV that is more “informed and immediate than much of the current news coverage”, which includes a performance on the very day that the public will decide whether to opt for the alternative vote system. I can’t help but think of Clegg’s famous passion for theatre and his hero Samuel Beckett, but Steven tells me he is yet to RSVP to Nicked.
Diana Quick returns to the festival, this year in Midnight Your Time, as a mother desperately trying to connect with her daughter on a peace corps mission in Palestine. Workshops offering key support and advice to the writers of tomorrow will continue, and platforms responding to current affairs and issues flagged by the shows remain an enriching aspect.
So the HighTide festival has built on its strengths to become more diverse, and with diversity comes accessibility. It has also been made more accessible by its extension from five days to nine, and the lifting of the traditional review embargo. I am keen to know more about what has enabled this development. “We’ve been lucky to work with theatres such as the National, the Old Vic and the Bush to transfer work, bringing young artists to the stage that they otherwise might not have programmed. At the same time we’ve slowly built a national brand and audience awareness for quality. This has emboldened us to produce a nine day festival which is also open to reviewers.”
Steven’s answer captures the general mood in the arts at the moment, one in which arts organisations are being urged to collaborate as money and resources become scarce. He doesn’t stop there though. “We’ve also collaborated particularly well with the private sector – our offices and research and development centre, the Genesis Laboratory, are donated entirely in-kind.” It seems to me that HighTide’s entrepreneurial fundraising methods are an inspiring model for other up-and-coming companies, particularly in the current climate. Clearly, it works.
Steven admits that working in a rural area has made the process longer than it might have been, but that HighTide are now in a position to “deliver the year we’ve always wanted to, ever since we started.”
The 5th HighTide Festival runs from 28 April to 8 May in Halesworth, Suffolk. Box Office: 0207 566 9780