Celebrating its 10th year, HighTide Festival is a vital platform for emerging new work.
Ten days of premieres of new work, talks, readings, comedy and cabaret in the seaside town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, it’s grown to be key date on the UK festival calendar.
What was the original inspiration for the festival, and why is it more important than ever that our new writers have their work showcased?
“We created HighTide Festival ten years ago at a time when new playwrights were not being produced,” explains Steven Atkinson, HighTide’s Artistic Director.
“This was before Dominic Cooke took over the Royal Court and Josie Rourke at the Bush, and collectively there became a big push towards new talent. We’re very proud to have given people like Nick Payne and Adam Brace their first full production, and we’ve produced new works from many of the best talents writing today, including Ella Hickson, Jack Thorne and Beth Steel.”
The Festival’s mission remains to discover and champion new writing talent, and this year, its given Theresa Ikoko her first professional production with Girls, which dips into the imagined lives of three Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Harem, exploring their relationships and identities.
“The festival itself is a totally unique experience,” says Atkinson.
“Artistically, there’s a range of full productions, from bigger scale, larger cast works, to experimental interactive theatre and site responsive work. Then there’s play readings, play workshops, touring shows – there’s huge variety. Then there’s the fact it takes place next to the sea in a beautiful town, so the artists have the best possible environment to be working in and all this is uniquely inspiring to their creativity. “
It can represent risk showcasing new work, often from unknown writers, their work untested and yet to be honed in front of an audience, but Atkinson says that risk is well worth taking – indeed necessary.
“Our interest is in supporting uniquely talented writers in their efforts to advance an art form that we deeply love. So we take huge risks on both new talents that have yet to prove themselves, and in new ways of creating theatre that might not always entirely work,” he explains.
“But more often than not we have been successful, and the impact HighTide artists have had on British and world theatre over the past ten years is really inspiring. As for the people part, the festival encourages audiences to attend new works by unknown talents and that is adventurous. Sometimes we as artists forget what a challenge the unknown can be to audiences, and we respect the risks that our audiences take.”
The seaside town of Aldeburgh is in some ways, not an obvious choice for a festival town. But Atkinson says that the unique atmosphere is a key element of the festival and its distinctive feel.
“Suffolk’s passion and hospitality has such a positive impact on the artists who are making and premiering their work at the festival,” he says.
“Both in Halesworth from 2007, and in Aldeburgh since 2015, local audiences have not only supported the festival, but welcomed it. The festival does not just take place in Aldeburgh; for Aldeburgh becomes a festival town. Audiences and artists mingle in the East Coast Café, and events are presented from early morning until late at night. I highly recommend walking through Aldeburgh between events, as the walk is an artistic event in itself.”
HighTide Festival runs until September 18 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. It features four brand new commissions including world premieres of Theresa Ikoko’s Girls, Elinor Cook’s Pilgrims. To celebrate HighTide’s anniversary, there is a site-specific production; The Path, which takes audiences on a trip around Aldeburgh as seven short plays are listened to through headsets, bringing to life Aldeburgh’s history.